In San Pedro Sula, Honduras, graffiti artists and activists are reclaiming their beleaguered home through the power of design.
Artist Rei Blinky is part of a new movement taking back the streets of San Pedro Sula. Image courtesy of the artist.
It’s a popular lament that graffiti artists face dangers from possible arrest to street harassment and muggings, but what about death? Recently, freelance writer Nathaniel Janowitz of Hyperallergic traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, ranked the world’s deadliest city for the fourth year in a row, to shadow a collective of graffiti artists and activists as they tried to reclaim their hometown through design. The medium-sized metropolis of less than 500,000 has a staggering homicide rate of 171 per 100,000 residents—that’s three to four murders per day—which has created a climate of fear few are brave enough to challenge. “Most houses are surrounded by walls with barbwire fences,” says Janowitz. “Locals rarely linger outdoors, and the people you do see standing outside are usually security guards holding shotguns and automatic weapons protecting businesses 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.” In an ironic twist, graffiti artists frequently call the police in advance of their tagging to help secure protection against local gangs, many of whom associate graffiti with turf wars. “It’s difficult for street artists; the risks from the Maras are high,” said Baruch, a San Pedrano street artist, in reference to one of the area’s most feared gangs.
Baruch’s emotive work can be seen throughout the city. Image courtesy of the artist.
Despite the danger, artists and activists like Baruch continue to push forward with their art—often during the day, undisguised.
The Honduran city, dangerous for decades, has in recent years plummeted into near chaos. This has largely been due to the country’s corrupt and inefficient government, and the city’s position as the Central American nation’s transportation, economic, and business hub. The violence has also created a mass exodus: according to research, the highest amount of migrant refugees to reach the US border each month comes from San Pedrano.
Rei Blinky’s work is one of the city’s most recognizable. Image courtesy of the artist.
At the head of the growing graffiti movement is Rei Blinky, whose easily recognizable, colorful pop-art style can be seen throughout San Pedro Sula. “The problems here don’t stop me from filling the streets with color, giving this place another face,” Blinky told Hyperallergic. Blinky and his group are also loosely tied to Acción Poética, a popular Latin American movement that has created public murals of poetry from Mexico to Argentina. In San Pedro Sula, murals frequently feature a quote from a prominent Honduran poet.
“Maybe we can’t change the world or the country; maybe it’s even going backwards,” artist Merary Avila, founder of the San Pedro Sula branch of Acción Poética told Hyperallergic. “We just hope to change things one step at a time, because now some people are waking up, and they’re interested in going forward.”