A mural initiative in León, Guanajuato, has filled the city’s streets with color this year: visitors and residents alike might round a corner to find themselves thrust into a duel between samurai cats or dodging oncoming vehicles and banana peels as Mario and Luigi — of Super Mario fame — race to the finish line.
The Municipal Youth Institute has invested 330,000 pesos (US $17,000) this year to bring to life the walls along the city’s main boulevards with thought-provoking images.
Since January, 25 new murals have gone up throughout the city, including works dedicated to the Simpsons, Mario Kart and samurai cats, as well as other paintings that entreat passersby to engage in socially-conscious action, such as one dedicated to water use and another that aims to raise awareness about autism.
Institute director Misraím Macías said that an equal amount of work or more went into researching the subject of each mural as went into painting it.
“What you see that looks like a week of work actually has at least two or three weeks of research behind it. You might ask if they seriously researched The Simpsons for a mural. Yes, because [faithfully rendering] the most iconic scenes, the characters from the show and the way they interact all requires background knowledge.”
But Macías said the initiative was about more than just a beautification campaign.
“We have two principal objectives in doing this: the first is to stimulate the creative economy. What does that mean? It means giving young people a chance to generate income and a way of life. Our second objective is to recover safe spaces. It’s about how we can create safe spaces and environments.”
Lupita Anaya, an academic specialist in art history, agreed that art can be a vehicle for social transformation, especially in León, which has experienced rising levels of violence in recent months.
“Just to pass by and see these works can distract you for a moment, and without shrinking from it, they can inspire a spark of peace and harmony. Art is not just decorative; it feeds the soul.”
She suggested that the murals could be included in youth programs to prevent young people’s involvement in crime and gangs. She also said the murals were an important way to bring art closer to people who might not otherwise have contact with it in their lives.
“Many people do not have the time, culture, intention or desire to go to galleries or museums, and so they have altered the urban environment so that people have the opportunity to see art in their everyday lives. And all types of art sensitize people.”
Macías said that in the coming months four more murals will go up in Guanajuato’s largest city: two for youth month and two more for the Day of the Dead.