BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Why build a rooftop water tank in the shape of a Teletubby? Or go to the trouble of installing a replica of the Eiffel Tower on top of a semi-abandoned building?
It is often difficult to explain the proliferation of unusual works of art dotting the vast urban belt of some 11 million people outside the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires.
In this huge expanse of tree-lined neighborhoods coexisting with areas of chaos – seemingly built up with little or no town planning – many residents have erected grand and startling surprises.
The creators are usually construction workers or merchants, although some artists seek to leave their mark in their neighborhood.
Pedro Flores defines the outskirts of Buenos Aires as a “post-apocalyptic paradise” close to the center of the capital. He and two friends run an Instagram account, “The Walking Conurban”, a play on the words “conurbano bonaerense”, as the roughly 40 municipalities are known in Spanish.
The page publishes daily images of these suburbs, often tinged with a bit of magical realism: a dinosaur in the dirt streets of a poor neighborhood; two Minions dolls greeting people from a house; a Statue of Liberty in the middle of a pasture.
Here are some of the works visited by The Associated Press.
On a rooftop on a street corner in the town of La Tablada stands a replica of the Eiffel Tower. Miguel Muñoz, 58, proudly explains how his father, a blacksmith, built it with scrap iron using brochures from the French Embassy.
“He gave it to me on my birthday, that’s why I’m not selling it,” Muñoz said.
The tower is a symbol in the district. “I took it apart once to paint it and the neighbors went crazy thinking someone stole it,” Muñoz said.
On the terrace of a two-story house stands a large kettle-shaped water tank, like those used by Argentines to make their beloved infusions called mate. It was built in 1957 by Italian immigrant Victorio Smerilli and some relatives.
“They decided to make it as a replica of the ‘Victor’ kettle that they were selling in a store on the ground floor of that same house,” said Gustavo Smerilli, the immigrant’s grandson.
Adriana Paoli runs an art workshop in the building and she is pushing a kettle restoration project.
“If I say, ‘I have my workshop in the kettle,’ everyone knows the place,” she said.
STATUE OF LIBERTY
In the municipality of General Rodríguez, behind a humble house, a replica of a Statue of Liberty rises above a field where horses and cows graze.
The 15-meter (49-foot) tall structure is a remnant of the “Liberty Motocross” circuit operated years ago, property caretaker Pablo Sebastián said.
BOAT HOUSE GORILLA
Sitting peacefully on a rock, next to a door of a boat-shaped house in the town of San Miguel, the gorilla Pepe drinks from a calabash. The creator of the house and the gorilla statue is the sculptor and painter Héctor Duarte, who died in 2020.
Duarte’s family has received offers to buy the cement sculpture, but they refuse to sell.
BUSTS OF EVITA AND JUAN PERÓN
In the patio of the same house where Pepe the gorilla presides, Duarte busts of Juan Domingo Perón, three-time president of Argentina, and his wife, Eva María Duarte, can be seen kissing.
The Duarte family lends the sculptures for official ceremonies.
MONTE GRANDE WATER TANK
The enormous water tank in the main square of Monte Grande became a work of art in 2020 when, at the request of the municipality, the artist Leandro García Pimentel painted a fresco there representing fire, earth, air and water.
The water tank has become a point of public meetings and ceremonies, and the newlyweds pose in front for photos.
In a street in front of the house of mason Daniel Niz, in the poor district of Sol de Oro in Ezeiza, a dinosaur welcomes visitors.
“My son wanted a rubber (dinosaur) and it was expensive, so I decided to make it from recycled objects and materials,” Niz said.
He previously had the dinosaur on a patio inside his home, but decided to put it outside so people could take pictures of the 1.2-ton structure.
HAND OF GOD WATER TANK
A water tank resembling a large hand holding a soccer ball stands on the roof of a house in the La Cumbre neighborhood on the outskirts of La Plata, reminiscent of the famous goal Diego Maradona scored with his hand against England in the 1986 World Cup.
It was designed by a deceased mason well known to locals.
COLOSSEUM, PISA TOWER and TRIUMPHY ARCH
Replicas of these European masterpieces in the municipality of Ituzaingó were made by the artist and architect Rubén Díaz, considered a “generator of fantasies”. Part of Díaz’s goal is to let his neighbors “travel” to places they would normally never see.
The Colosseum, which measures 200 square meters (2,153 square feet) and 8 meters (26 feet) high, recreates the Roman amphitheater.
Argentina’s version of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris is 11 meters (36 feet) high and has the late comedian Carlitos Balá immortalized on one side.
Meanwhile, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is located in the front garden of a private property. Díaz proposed to build the Great Wall of China in 2023.
Homer Simpson, the father of the television series ‘The Simpsons’, smiles and gives a thumbs up from the top of the aluminum roof of a restaurant in the city of Ciutadella. On the front of the restaurant, which serves pieces of grilled meat, is the silhouette of Maradona running with a ball.
TELETUBBY WATER TANK
Po, the red Teletubby with the circular antenna, smiles as he surveys a long, busy highway. But Po isn’t just there for decoration – she’s the water tank cover for a building in the city of Ciudadela.
Ignacio Castro, who rents the apartment just below the reservoir, says that when he moved in, he found the head of the character from the famous children’s show in the kitchen. He gave it to his uncle but the owner of the building demanded that it be returned to him.
Still in Ciudadela, around twenty characters on a human scale follow one another in the entrance garden of the house of Antonio Ierace, an Italian immigrant who arrived in Argentina in 1949 and who worked as a mason.
As a hobby, he designed statues dedicated to migrants, including a man carrying two suitcases, and tributes to workers such as hairdressers and blacksmiths.
HOUSE FOR TRANSFORMERS
In the town of Adrogué, gardener Juan Acosta cuts the grass in his yard where there are six robots that look like the Transformers from the 1980s American television show. Passers-by can see the Transformers from the sidewalk.
“Curious people take pictures every day,” Acosta said of the robots made from recycled materials.