Graffiti Is a Popular Art Form in Mexico City

Mexico News Daily, June 13, 2017

An estimated 70% of the monuments and historic buildings in Mexico City have been painted with graffiti, say local officials, but those are the most prominent.

The practice of graffiti painting has been carried out on private houses, shopping centers, government buildings, street signs, park benches and almost anywhere else that provides the graffiti painter with a bit of blank canvas.

Authorities say that six of the 16 boroughs of Mexico City see most of it: Iztapalapa, Iztacalco, Alvaro Obregón, Gustavo A. Madero, Cuauhtémoc and Miguel Hidalgo.

Over the years the official response has shifted from rounding up those responsible for what were regarded as acts of vandalism to providing them with a space where their artistic expression could run free.

Nevertheless, the city sees graffiti as a crime and can punish it with fines of up to 1,509 pesos (US $83) and 36 hours of jail time.

Humberto Reyes Méndez, chief of Mexico City’s Public Spaces Rescue and Graffiti Unit, told the newspaper Milenio that the buildings most affected are located on the streets surrounding the zócalo and along Paseo de la Reforma, scene of many of the city’s near daily marches and protests.

Early last Wednesday, two sculptures — replicas of the Greek sculptures Doryphoros of Polykleitos and the Discobolus of Myron that are located in the Roma neighborhood — were found spray-painted in pink in a manner that suggested underwear on the otherwise nude figures.

Reyes declared that his office is not against freedom of expression but “graffiti should not affect other cultural expressions, much less ones as ancient as these.”

The questionable tradition of adorning classic sculptures with underwear dates back to at least 1976, when a replica of Michelangelo’s David, located in a fountain in the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, received a coat of green, painted-on underoos.

Such acts of artistic expression — or vandalism — pose a challenge to restoration specialists from INAH, the National Institute of Anthropology and History, because historic buildings can be up to 300 years old.

“Each piece or building comes from a different time, often built with imported materials, making any reparation very expensive,” said José Mariano Leyva Pérez Gay, director of Mexico City’s Historic Center Trust.

The Graffiti Unit led by Reyes Méndez was created in 2003 in an effort to restore graffiti-painted spaces and round up and arrest graffiti taggers.

Three years later, the unit’s goals shifted, recalled Reyes. “Originally these acts were considered vandalism. Nonetheless, the unit became aware that these were not acts of destruction, but an artistic manifestation that demanded its own space.”

Today, 8,000 graffiti artists, as they are now called, are given sensitization talks and spaces where they can paint in accordance with a previously agreed-upon theme to lead them away from illegal painting.

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