An Art that doesn’t last:
“Murals are born as a kind of art that comes from the street, and as a consequence it is not an art that is made to last, that is what I understand. It’s a marginal art, graffiti, that allows certain individuals to express themselves through a wall.“
This was the statement of Peruvian Minister of Culture Diana Álvarez in relation to the decision of the new Mayor of Lima, Luis Castañeda, to cover some murals located in the historic center of the city with yellow paint.
The statement provoked a strong reaction of different sectors of society and generated a huge response on social media against, and also in support of, the destruction of murales. People started calling her the “Minister of Cultural Disaster” due to her lack of knowledge and appreciation of street art and what social transformation means in a country like Peru, also known as the country of “all bloods”.
The murals had been painted as an initiative of the previous administration, led by socialist Susana Villaran as part of a festival of art promoted by the Lima Municipal Council where several Latin American artists took part through a selective process. The designs were representative of political and social sentiments within the people. For example, the mural depicting the face of Tupac Amaru, famous for his rebellion against Spaniards, was painted by Colombian artist Oscar Gonzales “Gouache”. Another mural was showing a small child sleeping on the street with the words “Antes soñaba” (I used to dream) painted by Peruvian artist Eliot Tupac, which its detractors called an apology of terrorism affirming that the figure was symbolizing the leader of Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), a guerrilla group involved in armed struggle in the country for many years. Others brought to the discussion the issue that Tupac Amaru was the symbol of a MRTA- Movimiento Revolucionario Tupac Amaru- which allegedly joined Shining Path against the State. Critics insisted that this kind of subliminal art should not be allowed because it kept the idea of armed struggle alive. After the murals were covered in yellow paint, both artists commented that it was a pity that they were destroyed because they had become a benchmark of urban art in the city. A campaign to keep the mural alive on “virtual walls” where they will continue to exist, was started too.
However, not all murals were destroyed. Others, like one of the face of one of the most famous composers Chabuca Granda (see Picture), were as a “gesture of respect” and due to protests by the citizens.
Obviously, the debate involves more than a mere esthetic discussion on the murals and the colonial buildings in that area. It is a discussion that touched a key element of Peruvian contemporary history of identity and tolerance in a post conflict situation. A similar situation happened in Bogota, Colombia, last year, a fact that was reported in social media, claiming how street art and graffiti artists can be purposely converted into marginal individuals.
The act of painting over a mural is not only to erase the images themselves, but all the memories and everything that can be related to them. The citizens were not asked or consulted before, it was a decision that came from an authority that was democratically elected. This time social media played an important role not only among young people in Peru, but all Peruvians who migrated and continue to live abroad. Two districts in Lima have now called for local mural artists to apply to express their art in their locations.
Street art is alive and is meant to last.