Faces of the City

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Photo essay for Radical Americas Journal, Volume 1. Open access and available to download here.

As the privatization of public spaces, marginalization of racially and economically stigmatized groups and corporate domination of Latin American cities continues, there is a growing need to create spaces of resistance to counteract the homogenization of urban spaces. Graffiti and street art create sites of resistance both in their aesthetic subversion of urban orthodoxies and in their political symbolism as acts of defiance. The photos in this essay demonstrate how artists across the continent are projecting the lives of disenfranchised populations onto the walls of the urban spaces which they inhabit and create, shining a light on groups whose right to the city is being denied. By focusing on faces these artists bring what is truly human into direct conflict with the dehumanizing tendencies of corporate cultures that dominate. The gaze of a homeless man in Bogota or the glowing eyes of a shoe shiner in La Paz, for example, bring personal histories into spaces otherwise dominated by symbols of power and exclusion. In Buenos Aires, the artist RRAA.- paints over the faces on advertisements, pulling pedestrians out of consumerist daydreams with pastel pinks that encourage artistic inspiration and human connection. More simply, the scratch of a grimace where paint has flaked serves as a symbol of a ‘past performance’ – a mark of interaction between an individual and her environment.1 Elsewhere indigenous faces adorn the walls where they are otherwise unrepresented, and silent screams shout defiance…

 

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