Mural graffitis from different artists, street art can be seen in almost every city on Earth, but street art’s raw power and potential for change was felt by me most intensively in Medellin’s Comuna 13, previously one of Colombia’s most dangerous neighbourhoods, in fact Communa 13 was constant battleground between gangs, narcos, paramilitaries and the government, but today you would hardly recognize it.
Formerly one of Medellin’s most feared barrios, Comuna 13’s metamorphosis now represents Medellin in microcosm: not a perfect model for urban planning by any means, but a radical laboratory where untested experiments are carried out which seek to improve the urban and social fabric.
Street art is a pivotal part of this change, and it diffuses through every house, roof, door and blank canvas in this colourful neighbourhood. Street art’s themes are as diverse as the people that create them – from being deeply political and serious to being fun, satirical and irreverent, but upon closer inspection of these flaking canvases you can see, they are imbued with hope, the chance for change and ability to dream again.
For most of the residents, it was impossible to dream, living a life of suffering, terror and unimaginable difficulties. Stuck in a cycle of poverty and gang warefare from which there was no way out.
Today, however, thanks to the return of the rule of law and many new projects and initiatives in Comuna 13, the people here can again imagine a better life, a safer life. Street art is just one part of this, along with giant public education programs, security, activities for youth, libraries, increased transportation and economic opportunities.
Optimism fills the air these days in Comuna 13, things are still far from perfect but as residents will tell you ‘every day, in every way, things are getting better and better’.