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Álvaro Córdova, 25, traveled from Ecuador, his home country, to participate in the Barrio Vivo art festival, which promotes public art in Mexico City. “I like Mexico more than other countries because they're the best at showing art, especially graffiti and murals,” says Córdova, who painted two murals for Barrio Vivo. Mar García, GPJ Mexico
Arts

Urban Art Promotes Peace and Creativity in Mexico City Neighborhoods

Mexico

Public art, like graffiti, used to carry a stigma in Mexico City. But now, it’s increasingly being used to promote identity, peace and creativity in this capital city’s neighborhoods.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO  —  Black paint completely covers a huge wall in Mercado de Jamaica, one of Mexico City’s largest markets.

The artist, Denisse Escobedo, 34, skillfully forms large pink flowers on her black cement canvas – fitting, for a market that is known for its wholesale flower section. Escobedo’s work, oversized and alluring, attracts the attention of passersby.

“What are you painting?” asks a curious man on his way out of the market.

“It looks very beautiful, and it gives life to the market,” his wife adds.

Escobedo, who is known locally by her artist name, La India, says comments and questions from market-goers are common.

“Many people come to see the process and others congratulate me,” she says. “Some even ask me if I can go to paint their houses.”

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Denisse Escobedo, known by her artist name La India, paints a giant floral mural in one of Mexico City’s largest markets. She says she paints murals to decrease the onslaught of advertising citizens encounter on the streets of the capital. “I like painting on the street because you have more communication and contact with people. It is more nurturing for me and the people who see my work, I can talk to them and see the impact that my work has on their lives,” she says.

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

Escobedo has been painting murals in Mexico City for the last 11 years. She says she does it to give people a reprieve from the onslaught of advertising in public spaces.

“We’re saturated with a lot of visual contamination from companies and products throughout the city, and that doesn’t give us anything visually,” Escobedo says.

Although it’s not a new trend in the country’s capital, creating safer and more appealing public spaces through the presence of urban art has increased in recent years, thanks to a variety of public and private projects. Both kinds of projects are often sponsored by Mexican paint companies.

The results of the collaborations have been meaningful, says Eunice Rendón, the former deputy secretary of the National Public Security System, which supports murals and other forms of urban art as a way to promote peace in local neighborhoods.

The murals are creating a sense of identity and belonging in the communities, she says.

While many of the most successful mural projects unite artists directly with community members, government intervention has played an important role in eliminating the social stigma attached to urban art, Rendón says. The graffiti unit within the public security department takes calls from residents who complain about illegal graffiti, but also creates spaces for graffiti artists to use legally.

In addition to individual murals, whole neighborhood festivals are also dedicated to promoting public art. In 2018, the urban art festival Barrio Vivo, or Living Neighborhood, was born in Mexico City. Roberto Shimizu, the project’s director, says the goal of the festival is to transform neighborhoods to highlight the beauty and culture of Mexico, especially in areas thought to be dangerous.

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Many of the murals and public art projects in Mexico City are sponsored by paint companies, such as Pinturas Osel. Company representatives say that they are hoping to create positive impact in local communities.

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

Shimizu says that graffiti artists used to be treated like criminals. “Now, the neighborhood supports us,” he says. “We’re respected in the neighborhood. They know the work we do.”

The murals at Barrio Vivo are sponsored by Pinturas Osel, a Mexican paint brand that has participated in three urban art festivals in the capital in the last 18 months. Alma Cabello, a Pinturas Osel representative for the central region, says the company recognizes that public art is a direct way to build relationships with customers while also creating beautiful public spaces.

Throughout Mexico City, more and more streets and buildings are being converted into canvases.

“[We bring] popular artists who talk about real issues and portray an authentic Mexico, decorating the urban landscape with the histories of the neighborhoods,” Cabello says. “We want to make art more accessible to the community.”

Rishi Khalsa, GPJ, translated this story from Spanish.

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