The changing face of Cuenca accelerates with a big murals project across two barrios
By John Keeble
A major mural painting project spanning two barrios in the west of Cuenca has taken another step forward and the final phase is likely to begin in two weeks. It is a cooperative venture between the communities of Convención Del 45 and Tandacatu barrios, the ceramicist Eduardo Segovia, and some of the city’s finest urban artists.
The aim of the project is to help rehabilitate Convención Del 45 and Tandacatu, which have seen better times, and to help restore their reputations and build new interest among visitors as well as potential residents and businesses.
“This is art for the people,” said Paul Marquis, a Tandacatu resident who is organising the Tandacatu project while Andrés Zambrano, president of the historic Convención Del 45 and owner of La Guarida restaurant, organizes the project in his barrio.
Tandacatu saw another mural painted in recent days, the fifth of eight planned for the barrio.
Barrio Convención Del 45 president Zambrano is patiently negotiating with city authorities to receive their blessing and hopefully some funds to add to the amount already raised to pay for the work, which will include a spectacular mural, about seven meters by seven meters, in a collaboration between Segovia and two of Cuenca’s young urban artists.
He has explained the project to the city’s cultural and historic buildings officials and they, he said, were in verbal agreement with the project – now he wants to get the official communication in writing to make sure all is well.
However, he has permission from the building owners for the ‘Gateway to Convención Del 45’ mural and hopes to start that in about two weeks.
Segovia, who lives in the area of the new murals and who is donating his designs to the project, said he was pleased to see young artists being able to show their skills and art. “They are my art companions, and I am thankful that I am alongside them to make the neighbourhood better,” he said. “I am happy to help promote them.”
The ‘gateway’ mural will blend Segovia designs with the work of Daniel Williams, an expat artist who wants to place people of color in telling settings, and Topher Man, a Cuenca artist whose striking designs are expected to contrast with Segovia’s more rounded paintings. The final balance has not yet been agreed. [Read Daniel Williams’ column about the graffiti vs. street art debate in Cuenca.]
The murals will beautify walls at private homes and businesses across the two adjoining barrios. All the urban artists, who earn a living from art, will be paid from money obtained from local business sponsors and a public appeal.
The Tandacatu project has been able to proceed faster because it does not have the density of historic buildings seen in Convención Del 45. Marquis said five of the planned eight murals in Tandacatu had been finished.
The tranvia runs through both areas, and will give passengers mural views including the ‘gateway’ painting. Convenient tranvia stops will help visitors find their way into the streets with murals. For Segovia, the tranvia route brings back childhood memories of when a river ran along the route.
Topher Man – the street name of Christopher Guzman – has been a street artist for 10 years and has been commissioned by the city authorities for murals. He studied art in Cuenca and he is also a graphic designer and tattoo artist. His father was an artist too.
“My work is abstract and colorful,” he said. “I don’t make anything realistic. Murals make the city brighter, happier. They give a second chance to the streets to be less grey, boring, concrete.
“When I make a mural I like to see the area and the people. Then I create my mural from nothing to see that it fits in with everything.
“I like Segovia’s style and I am really excited to be part of that [gateway] project. It will be all in one – Segovia’s design, Daniel Williams’s work and mine.
“The streets are our galleries. We are creating art for the people.”
Daniel Williams commented: “I’m incredibly excited to be a part of a beautification project for such a wonderful neighborhood. There’s a lot of pressure to do well, because there are so many talented artists in the mix. Overall, I’m glad that some younger artists will be spotlighted.
“Street art has disrupted an elitist attitude that’s pervasive in the art scene. Muralists kick down barriers and trample over gatekeepers within the art world to expose all social and economic classes to the power of art.”
He added that the art galleries in Cuenca seem to be saturated with depictions of cathedrals and pastoral life. “These elements deserve to be celebrated, but perhaps this project can connect a new wave of contemporary artists with some adventurous gallery owners.
“Saying murals aren’t art is like saying Italian frescos aren’t art. One of humanity’s greatest and most recognized artistic feats, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, isn’t art because it was painted on a plaster base instead of a canvas?
“I’m interested in depicting the people of the African Diaspora. I hope to make work to inspire, celebrate, and represent some of the beautiful people that I’ve encountered here.”
Williams has an art show, titled Jaded, at idiomART until October 2nd. The series of drawings and paintings depict people of the African Diaspora and a coping society.
For Mural project information and donations phone Andrés Zambrano on 099 806 8071 or visit him at La Guarida restaurant.