Often considered an act of vandalism in large cities, urban art has become an unexpected ally during the current pandemic in transmitting different prevention measures. In countries such as Peru, Senegal or India, not all communities and neighborhoods have access to information on the essential rules of hygiene and social distancing, and are at risk of being fully exposed to the virus. In this breeding ground new alternatives have been born to reach everyone, such as urban art: the creation of murals has been revealed as a very effective tool to promote awareness among the most vulnerable populations on the planet. These are some examples on three continents
Asia: The Indian artist who alerts his neighbors
With more than 1,300 million inhabitants, India is one of the most complicated countries in managing a state of national alarm. According to Unesco data, 37% of the illiterate population in the world belongs to this country, while 50% of the Indian population does not have Internet access and up to 1,652 different languages and dialects are distributed throughout its geography. It is a scenario where numerous factors hinder the transmission of a message, especially during a pandemic in which taking distance, washing hands or raising awareness about the importance of staying at home are essential rules for controlling the situation from each of your fronts.
In the Anantapur district, in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, lives Somashekar, a 25-year-old man who dedicates himself every day to painting murals on the walls of his area. In his designs, women in Hindu clothing are seen wearing a mask, crowds crossed with crosses or messages in Telugu, a language native to the rural areas of this southern state of the country. Its mission is to warn the population about the arrival of a virus called covid-19 and the different measures to take to prevent the spread.
Sponsored by the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, Somashekar is a 25-year-old Indian artist who these days dedicates himself to painting different murals to raise awareness among his neighbors in the Anantapur area, in southern India. FVF
“The coronavirus made me reflect on the effects that it could have on my environment, on my town, where many people live in poverty,” says Somashekar. “Many people survive on what they earn each day and in this context it is very difficult for people to stay at home. With these murals I can contribute to the awareness of all the neighbors so that they protect themselves and others above all else. ”
The son of landless laborers and the seventh of nine brothers, Somashekar was sponsored at the age of seven by the Vicente Ferrer Foundation, one of the most influential international organizations in India and the epicenter of various artistic initiatives.
“Urban art murals are instruments of expression that we normally associate with cities because they have a negative connotation there. However, its relevance in rural areas is absolute, ”says Raquel Artiles, the organization’s communication technique. “We carry out the projects in very impoverished villages where a significant part of the population is illiterate. That is where artistic expression is extremely useful because it informs, sensitizes and serves to communicate and educate about different problems such as male violence, child marriage, selective abortions or, in this case, the pandemic. “
Thanks to these murals, residents can be informed about the measures they have to take to avoid becoming infected and being infected, while at the same time enhancing the style and leadership of young people who enter into a unique dialogue with their environment. “Art education is very important in India and its benefits go far beyond what you might think a priori,” adds Raquel. “Art is a universal language and it has the ability to reach everyone, whether they know how to read or not, whether they speak the same language or not.”
Latin America: The reinvention of public spaces thanks to graffiti
Latin America is currently one of the most affected areas in the world due to covid-19. Specifically, Peru already has more than 164,000 infected and a prevention plan weighed down by different obstacles. But its artists have found in aerosol art the best way to raise public awareness, especially through strategic locations.
The cracked mouth of this girl drawn on the walls of a market in Lima, Peru, served as an excuse for the artist Ricardo Cortez to include a mask as a way of raising awareness among the neighbors who come to buy from this area every day. Loaned by Ricardo Cortez
In one of the Magdalena del Mar markets, one of the districts of the city of Lima, an old mural that was beginning to break became a reason for restoration for the artist Daniel Cortez, known under the stage name of Decertor. By the time quarantine was imposed in the country, Cortez thought that instead of starting from scratch, he could rebuild the existing one by introducing a mask into the design.
“Saving a mural through a mask calls into question the importance of urban expressions as an awareness tool,” says Daniel. “Now, all the residents who go to this market every week come across the image, appreciating how the murals affect the way we perceive and relate to ourselves in the public space; how it drives us as a society ”, he relates on his Instagram account.
Daniel’s work is one of many that are unfolding throughout Latin America these days, including the works of the Mexican Salvador EVOC Muñoz, who painted a mural in Puebla under the slogan “United we are Mexico” in gratitude to the neighbors who distributed food during the quarantine imposed in this country; or the murals of the famous artist Eduardo Kobra in São Paulo, epicenter of urban art in a country like Brazil, where culture was never one of the priorities of the current president, Jair Bolsonaro.
Africa: The art of spreading a message
Undervaluing the importance of urban art is also the keynote in certain parts of Africa, a continent where art has always had a crucial role for the population when the Government was not there: from the Ndebele peoples of South Africa who used their unique pictorial style to communicate with each other in apartheid times, even the contemporary work of artists like Salimata Diop. A tradition that finds in the current situation the best canvas to go one step further and use art as the best way to alert.
One of the murals painted by the Undu Graff collective, in the suburbs of Dakar (Senegal), where a large part of its population cannot read or barely have access to television and the internet. Loaned by UNDU GRAFF
In addition to initiatives such as the Ushahidi data platform in Kenya or the rise of start-ups in the covid-19 landscape in Africa, the work of different artistic groups is added. One of them, Undu Graff, is a collective of urban artists born in 2018 and that these days fills the walls of Yeumbeul, Keur Mbaye Fall, Diamaguène and Malika with murals, four of the poorest neighborhoods in Dakar (Senegal) that the government never came.
“Urban art fulfills the role that the Government does not reach in these areas,” says Ati Diallo, founder of Undu Graff. “Many of the people in these neighborhoods cannot read and do not have access to radio or television.”
Children wearing masks under “covid-19” labels, local doctors and hands rubbing with antiseptic gel. A microcosm of symbols and illustrations expands between the eroded walls of those suburbs where, although the Government does not provide the space for these works, the recognition of urban art is increasingly evident. “Recently, the Minister of Health came to visit us and took some photographs with the murals,” continues Ati, who these days is immersed in the main objective of this initiative: alerting other African peoples of the need to take measures.
“During these days we are connected with other urban art organizations in Guinea, Benin or Togo to promote awareness initiatives,” he says. “There are messages that should be broadcast to all parts of the world. Even the most inaccessible ”.
Although the Government of Senegal does not yield official spaces for urban art, nor does it recognize this technique as a communication channel during the state of alarm, the Minister of Health, Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr, has dropped into the neighborhoods of Dakar where the group paints UnduGraff, and a picture has been taken with the boys. Loaned by UNDU GRAFF
You can follow PLANET FUTURE on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe here to our newsletter.