STREET ART in CUENCA, ECUADOR.
Walking leisurely around Cuenca, enjoying the beautiful layout and architecture of the Historic Center, I arrived at one of the two staircases leading from Paseo 3 de Noviembre to the lower level, across the River Rio Tomebamba with its green river banks and the newer part of Cuenca. It is a path well trodden each day, as people move back and forth along the staircase, and over the bridge.
The view from here is camera worthy, with the historic “hanging houses” on the Barranca (edge) that overlook the fertile valley below with its four rivers irrigating the area.
While taking in the beautiful view, my senses came alive at the site of some extraordinary Street Art painted on the walls alongside the steps – very contemporary, very figurative, with vibrant colors and challenging slogans. It was totally unexpected as there was nothing in the Guide Books to alert me to this drama, where bare walls became bold canvases for social commentary. I wondered who created the work and who had sanctioned it.
Making inquiries, I found out it is encouraged and approved at the highest level. A Municipal Ordinance was enacted in 2013 to regulate Street Art in Cuenca. The City works with about sixty approved Street Artists sanctioning their murals and even supplying them with cans of paint. This is not Urban Graffiti or ugly scribbles (tags) on walls with some hidden message for members of a gang. It does have messages, either social or political, but with a platform supplied by the City, the artists are able to express themselves creatively. Every piece of art is a story or in some way represents what is happening in the culture at the time. It is an open air “Art Gallery” with works created by skilled contemporary artists, some famous and others hoping to be famous, whose work is pre-approved before it becomes Street Art. These “wall canvases” are not splashed throughout the City but have been painted on selected wall space. Cuenca is not short of Galleries or Museums, but the Street Art movement represents art that is free and can be enjoyed by everyone.
One offshoot of this creativity is that it provides “jobs” for artists who may otherwise not be able to sell their works and who can find fame and success in this genre. The University of Cuenca offers Art Degrees in its curriculum and some of the artists are graduates of the University. The local population take pride in this , and may gather around to offer comments when a new image is being painted, take photos or even request the artist to do paintings on the walls of their homes. It can turn into an interactive experience. Great skill is required to do these paintings. The medium used is not paint applied with a brush, but cans of spray paint that are applied in layers creating depth of color through layering and blending. The outlines and slogans can sometimes be hand finished with a brush before adding a final coat of protection to preserve them from the elements.
It is meaningful art to be admired, understood and respected and in a short time, Cuenca is becoming one of the most recognized Cities for Street Art. These massive art projects are relatively new, but with the high tourist population in Cuenca, news is spreading to other countries and they will soon be featured in the Guidebooks. Street Art can now be added to the list of tourist attractions and memorable experiences that Cuenca has to offer.