Latin America is a region dear to my heart, where I’ve cumulatively spent many years of my life forging lifelong friendships, studying the languages (Spanish and Portuguese), and– of course– painting murals with kids and collaborating with my fellow artists! Across this diverse region, I’ve had the opportunity to partner with young people, families and community groups to organize collaborative murals, musical sculptures and performances that tackle some of society’s most enduring challenges. The following are some highlights…
I’ve supported the creation and development of a newly independent organization of which I’ve very proud: Artolución Colombia, a sister to our global Artolution organization, which is now running throughout the year with youth who have been displaced by crisis, conflict and political violence– both Venezuelans and internally-displaced Colombians– in Cali, Santa Marta and many other communities. We have an incredibly talented and dedicated team of local teaching artists in diverse genres such as Muralism, Graffiti, Photography, Dance, Theatre, Rap, Sculpture and even Yoga! I’ve had a blast getting to know and collaborate with these individuals, and can’t wait for our next project together!
Since 2009, I’ve returned over and over since to visit my host family and lead mural projects in Rio de Janeiro’s City of God favela (Cidade de Deus), engaging dozens of youth and connecting them with positive adults in their community to explore their shared history. I’ve witnessed the struggles of a neighborhood abandoned by the state, but also the resilience, rich culture and hospitality of its people.
I fell in love with Salvador da Bahia back in 2005, when I dove in head first by traveling alone with my rudimentary Portuguese to live in a terreiro de Candomblé, or Afro-Brazilian spiritual center, for 3 months. Soon, I made friends who became like family, and I’ve been returning ever since to visit them, paint and recharge my batteries with the electric energy and deep traditions of the Bahian culture.
Teenagers in the Rafey barrio in Santiago live near a massive garbage dump, so what better way to repurpose the trash than to create a sculpture-mural that doubles as a percussive instrument? 2017’s “Boatstrument (Barcostrumento),” along with our giant mural, were an exciting collaboration between the young people, local artists like D-Troya Lion, my Artolution brother Max Frieder and yours truly.
Partners: Artolution, Meridian International Center, US Embassy in Santo Domingo
In 2012, in a remote indigenous Huichol community in the mountains of Jalisco, I partnered with community elders to provide an opportunity for children to learn about their culture and spirituality, and then create a mural celebrating their traditions. I felt honored to be welcomed into a society that is wary of outsiders– and for good reason, as their way of life is constantly under threat from the outside world. I learned a great deal, and the opportunity to participate in a ceremony led by the shaman featured in the mural.
Partner: IRRI, Isla Urbana
I’ve visited El Salvador multiple times since 2004, and my favorite place is a remote, rural village known as San Antonio los Ranchos in the Chalatenango department, home to my close friends, the Murcia family. Through our historical mural and theatrical performance in 2010, local children and their families explored their past, in which they were bombed and massacred by the military and forced to flee to a desperate refugee camp in Honduras, but then valiantly returned to rebuild their community while the brutal civil war raged on. They dreamed of a future of peace and stability through their revolutionary artwork.
And last but not least, Santiago de Cuba, one of my all time fav places on earth, has been the site of quite a few collaborative murals over the years, as well as many unforgettable nights of dancing, laughing and plenty of ron cubano with my friends. Through the Inter-Nos Mural Festival, I spent time here in 2010, 2012 and 2014. Whether discussing the state of society with Cuban artists, attending a Santeria ceremony or painting on scaffolding high above the streets, I’ll never forget the magic of this land and the energy of the Cuban people.