A sculpture by Botero in Medellin's Plaza Botero, covered up to protest air pollution (photo via @laciudadverde/Instagram)

A sculpture by Fernando Botero in Medellín’s Botero Plaza, covered with a makeshift mask to protest air pollution (photo via @laciudadverde/Instagram)

Activists protesting severe pollution levels in Medellín, Colombia, aired their concerns last week with a striking public gesture: they strapped giant face masks onto a number of Fernando Botero sculptures in the famous Botero Plaza. Donated by the 83-year-old sculptor for permanent display in his hometown, the enormous bronze works are among the city’s most photographed attractions, making them a prime medium for the activists to spread their message. La Ciudad Verde, or the Green City, an independent, Colombia-based environmental collective promoting sustainability in the region, designed and installed the masks, which have since been removed.

Carlos Cadena Gaitán of La Ciudad Verde poses in front of a masked Botero (photo via @cadenagaitan/Instagram)

Carlos Cadena Gaitán of La Ciudad Verde poses in front of a masked Botero (photo via @cadenagaitan/Instagram) (click to enlarge)

“We came to the place that we love the most, Plaza Botero … but which is also the most polluted part of the city of Medellín according to our sensors,” Green City’s Carlos Cadenas told Agence France Presse (AFP).

Last month, city officials issued a red alert for the air quality of Medellín, which is home to over three million people, making it Colombia’s second-largest city.

“This is the first time in history this critical condition present itself in all the areas we monitor,” Metropolitan Area director Eugenio Prieto told local media. According to Colombia Reports, the extreme pollution levels stem from “the popularization of cars,” road work that causes traffic jams, and forest fires and dry spells caused by El Niño.

As AFP reports, the Green City activists are petitioning authorities to devise “a real solution.” The masks are meant to offer a vision of what may soon come if the government fails to act and people’s lifestyles remain unchanged.
“We offer a powerful vision of the future of our cities,” Green City activists wrote in an Instagram post. “We do not want you to live with the obligation to wear a mask!”

Hoy en la Plaza Botero y Medellín se #RespiraVida

A photo posted by Daniel Suárez (@danielsuarezvoz) on

Siempre lindas, hasta con tapabocas. #RespiraVida porque nuestro aire continúa en emergencia.

A photo posted by Daniel Suárez (@danielsuarezvoz) on

Claire Voon

Claire Voon is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Singapore, she grew up near Washington, D.C. and is now based in Chicago. Her work has also appeared in New York Magazine, VICE,...