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A state-sponsored project in Bolivia is aiming to use urban art to capture some of the rich traditions of indigenous culture and turn an area into a tourist attraction.
The project involves adorning homes with murals and was carried out by residents of a poor neighbourhood who have sought inspiration from Andean textiles.
Images now include indigenous Aymara women selling produce and spices in the streets, hummingbirds taking flight and multicoloured geometrical shapes on what once were plain, brick walls on a hillside of Bolivia’s capital.
“When we wake up in the morning, we now see colours. We no longer see the adobe or brick. I love my view,” said Tomasa Gutierrez, who heads the Chaulluma neighbourhood council. She stood in front of a mural that read “Libertad” – Spanish for “Liberty” – and included paintings of “cholitas” indigenous women wearing the traditional billowing skirts, embroidered shawls and bowler hats.
“We’ve decided that our homes should show who we are, our customs, our culture,” she said.
Chaulluma is located about 12,500 feet (3800 metres) above sea level and it’s reached by a steep staircase known ominously as “The 1000 steps”.
The high-altitude exercise leads to a majestic view of the snow-capped Illimani peak that towers over the mountain-locked Bolivian capital. Less ambitious visitors can ride a cable car that connects La Paz to its sister city of El Alto.
The US$4.5 million mural project called “Mi Qhatu” – “market” in Aymara – includes about 160 homes and is based on an initiative in Mexico’s Hidalgo state, said Pablo Balanza, the coordinator of the National Fund for Productive and Social Investment.
The residents-turned-painters are guided by four urban artists and about 50 masons who have also made home renovations, including strengthening once crumbling walls.
The project director, urban artist Knorke Leaf, said the murals seek to “bring joy” and attract tourists by showcasing the personality of Chaulluma’s people, who are mainly artisans and vendors who migrated to the neighbourhood from the countryside.
“They painted my little home,” said Eusebia Huanca, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 50 years. “They brought joy to me.”