MEXICO – The city, viewed from a towering cable car, is a concrete sea stretching to the horizon, cut only by clusters of skyscrapers and the remains of ancient volcanoes. About 60 feet below is the Istapalapa neighborhood, a maze of winding streets and alleys, its cinder block houses encircling the neighborhood’s gaudy gray hills.
But then, on the roof, there was a sudden flash of color: a giant monarch butterfly perched on a purple flower. Further along the route of Mexico City’s newest cable car, the toucan and scarlet macaw watch the passengers. Later, on the canary yellow wall, a young girl in a red dress with closed eyes is depicted in an expression of absolute bliss.
The 6.5-mile line, which opened in August, is the longest public cable car in the world, according to the city’s government. In addition to cutting travel times in half for many workers in the capital’s most populous area, the cable car has an additional appeal: lush murals painted by an army of local artists, many of which can only be seen from above.
“There are paintings and murals all along the route,” said Cesar Enrique Sanchez del Valle, a music teacher who recently took the cable car home on Tuesday afternoon. “Nice, something unexpected.”
The rooftop paintings are the latest step in a beautification project for the Istapalapa government, which has hired some 140 artists over the past three years to decorate the neighborhood with nearly 7,000 public art pieces, creating an explosion of color in one of the world’s most crime-ridden locations. districts of Mexico City.
“People want to save their history, the history of the area,” said Mayor Clara Brugada Molina. “Istapalapa becomes a giant gallery.”
Sprawling on the outskirts of Mexico City, Istapalapa is home to 1.8 million residents, some of whom are among the poorest in the city. Many work in wealthier neighborhoods, and before the cable car, this often meant hours of commuting to work.
Like many of Mexico’s poor urban areas, Istapalapa has long suffered from both lack of basic services such as running water and high levels of violence, often linked to organized crime.
The Mayor’s Arts Initiative is part of a broader plan to improve security in İstapalap, including the use of street lamps that are now shining light on main roads that were once shrouded in darkness.
The frescoes depict national icons such as Aztec deities, revolutionary leader Emiliano Zapata and Frida Kahlo, with a touch of turquoise on her eyes.
But there are other obeisances to local heroes.
Against a scarlet background, with blue, yellow, turquoise and lemon-green figures floating behind her, an image of a woman with short hair smiles at the viewer: this is Lupita Bautista, a native of Istapalapa and world boxing champion, almost as colorful in clothes. real life.
Recently, 33-year-old Ms. Bautista walked into her gym wearing fluorescent green sneakers, a pink beanie, and a rainbow tie-dye sweatshirt that had her name scrawled across the front in fuchsia sequins.
“I love that the colors are so vibrant,” she said of a government-funded project that, in addition to creating murals, turned her training area into a mosaic of color by painting cinder block houses into vibrant hues. painting that would be inaccessible to many residents. “It gives him a lot of life.”
Ms Bautista’s childhood story is well known in the area. When she was little, there was no electricity in her house in Istapalap – it was lit only by night candlelight. There were no sidewalks or even paved roads in her area.
“Everything was gray,” she recalled.
Crime was also a problem as robberies and murders were so common that Ms. Bautista said her mother never allowed her or her sister to leave the house unless they were about to go to school.
“I was terrified,” she said. “I felt that something was going to happen to me.”
Ms Bautista said that now that many avenues are brightly lit, she feels much safer jogging after dark.
“I was made to run the streets,” she said of her youth, which she spent in the side streets and side streets of the area long before becoming a champion fighter. “You can now run with a lot more safety and focus, without thinking about when someone will jump out and scare you.”
But despite the government’s efforts, most Istapalapans continue to live in fear: in a June poll by Mexico’s national statistics agency, nearly eight in 10 residents said they felt in danger – one of the highest rates in any city in the country.
Women, in particular, face widespread violence in Istapalap, which ranks among the 25 municipalities in the country with the highest number of female homicides, in which women are killed because of their gender. According to a 2019 report from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, from 2012 to 2017, city surveillance cameras recorded more cases of sexual violence against women in Istapalap than in any other area of Mexico City.
It was this gender-based violence that prompted the mural and lighting project, the mayor said, to create pathways for women to feel safe on their way home. Many murals depict women, whether they are residents such as Ms. Bautista or famous historical figures, as well as feminist symbols.
“We are trying to clear the streets for women,” said Ms Brugada.
But not everyone is convinced that this strategy works.
Daniela Seron, 46, was born in Istapalap, when it was just a rugged settlement with open fields where farmers grew crops.
“It was like a small town,” recalls Ms. Seron. “You’ve seen beautiful hills before.”
In the 1970s, the area began to rapidly urbanize.
“From one minute to the next, you will see a little light here, a little light there,” said Ms. Seron. “Before the boom, it started to fill up with people.”
The growth in the population of both families leaving central Mexico City and migrants from rural areas has also led to an increase in crime. For Ms. Seron, a transgender woman, this meant confronting not only widespread violence, but also the prejudices of living in a conservative religious area – each year, İstapalapa attracts millions of parishioners to a giant reconstruction of Christ’s crucifixion.
“This is a religious stigma against you,” said Ms. Seron.
As for the murals, she says they look beautiful, but they did little to make her feel more secure.
“It doesn’t mean anything to me that I have a very beautifully painted street three blocks away from where people are robbed or killed,” she said.
The artist Alejandra Atrisco Amilpas, who painted about 300 murals in Istapalap, believes they can make residents proud of where they live, but she admits they can only go this far.
“Paint helps a lot, but unfortunately it cannot change the reality of social problems,” she said. “The mural won’t change whether you care about the woman being beaten at the corner.”
Ms Atrisco, gay, said she faced conservative views during the project, whether from male artists who question her ability or from local authorities who forbid her from painting LGBTQ-themed murals.
“Violence against women, yes, but lesbians, no,” she said with a sad smile.
However, Ms. Atrisco believes that her work has the potential to impact the lives of residents by presenting the characters of Istapalapa in full color.
“Every day you face a new challenge, every day a new wall and a new story,” she said. “You make your dreams come true a little – you become a dream maker.”