Transformation through the Power of Art - Day 525
Here we are in Comuna 13, known to be the most dangerous place in the world...in the past. It's been heart rendering to see how Art has helped to transform this place.
Imagine living in the most dangerous district in the World, Comuna 13 on the mountain side of Medellin.
Drugs are rife, with the area run by the Urabeños, the most aggressive and ruthless Colombian drug traffic organisation. New neighbours squeeze into the already cramped streets, but friends they are not: guerrillas, gangs, and paramilitaries making this area their home.
Every day, gunshots are heard. You wonder if you know the person killed. You keep your head down; intimidation and kidnapping are common. You pay your "protection" money each week, no questions asked.
Would you enter this place?
Comuna 13 is where we visited yesterday morning and what a transformation this place has had in the last 20 years.
After the gang and drug leaders were killed or disappeared, the Government, via an urban project, installed a 384m outdoor escalator into the mountainside of this ghetto. The result was that it improved access for the locals, giving them greater freedom and hope for a better life.
We heard that at the time a teacher commented on how dull the area looked, and encouraged the teenagers of the Comuna 13 community to get painting.
Through art they expressed themselves and the recent history, choosing creativity rather than a life of crime.
I have just read a book called Modello by Jack Pransky which describes how a neighbourhood outside Miami full of violence, crime, drugs, abuse, and poverty, was transformed to a place of hope, community spirit, and empowerment. That is what we saw in Comuna 13. And if communities can change, so can we.
Various community projects are improving the residents lives here and solving the deep-rooted social problems of the area. And much of this is through street art.
Climbing up the steep streets and along the escalator, we were greeted with beautiful and colourful artwork, many with smiling faces, elephants and the colour green which all represent hope.
What a massive transformation in the past 20 years. The people must feel very proud, and it shows on their faces, their friendliness, their joy of learning, art and even breakdancing.
After our visit, we took a trip on a cable car; there are two in Medellin. This one went up and down two hills giving us a different perspective from above of how people live.
Rooftops of clay roman tiles, corrugated aluminum or asbestos covered the small brick homes. One area high on the hill, we could see tiny shacks quickly constructed from wood. There are many Venezuelans probably living here escaping from the crisis they have endured.
After lunch in Mercado de Rio, a large warehouse full of trendy food stalls, such a contrast to our morning experience, we visited the Modern Art Museum.
One of the exhibits was 'Cardinal Signs' by Libia Posada based on the atlas of where people have been displaced from, with diagrams drawn on their legs. Another 'Skyless' by Clemencia Echeverri was an installation of 9 video screens showing the effects of mining on Colombian rivers.
Art can be so powerful, addressing social, political and economic concerns as well as celebrating life, giving hope to others. A great reminder that transformation is possible at an individual to a global level.