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CHICAGO — A Honduran street artist who goes by the name of Urban Maeztro, a translation of “Urban Master,” is covering the walls of the country’s capital, Tegucicalpa, with posters of art historical images holding neon weapons. A reproduced Mona Lisa grips a neon pink pistol; the eponymous American Gothic couple holds an M-16 instead of pitch forks. This anonymous artist isn’t doing it for the thrill or the kill. And in fact, he has almost been killed by people who aren’t interested in his mission: To push Hondurans into thinking about the violence that has overtaken their country.
“There is a parallel between the brutal violation of a work so beautiful by adding a firearm and the violence and guns in Tegucigalpa, which could also be a beautiful city without them,” he recently explained to Fox News Latino.
The 27-year-old artist, who chooses to remain anonymous for security reasons, dresses in a solid color hood, his face covered in a kerchief with a skull printed over it. His street art-flavored activism began after he left his day job at an advertising agency, where he also conveniently learned the way billboards, the media and publicity affect and control the public.
This of course reminds us of the teachings of Noam Chomsky on media control in America. The political conditions in Honduras differ drastically from the US, one of the most violent countries in the world, where 20 people are killed every day. According to reports from OpenDemocracy.net, Honduras is the world’s “murder capital,” and there are ninety-one homicides per 100,000 people, which breaks down to approximately one every 74 minutes. The US has a strong base in Honduras, which is also a central part of the ongoing war on drugs. And only four years ago, the 2009 Honduran coup d’état ousted then-President Manuel Zelaya, sending him into exile on June 28, 2009.
And so the masked maestro man, who now works fewer hours at a cultural center in Honduras, sees his work as less of a Banksy-esque prankster or street-art-in-the-gallery type display, and more of an actual political act. And though biting in his commentary, much like street artists Barry McGee, whose graffiti markings and art are virulently anti-capitalism and against consumerism though somehow grace the mysterious art market, the Urban Maestro’s works aren’t intended for white walls. In the murder capital of the world, he too could easily become another casualty.