Children are seen in the neighborhood of the slum area, Unit Seven of Maputo, Mozambique, Nov. 13, 2022. (Xinhua/Nie Zuguo)
MAPUTO, Nov. 17 (Xinhua) -- For artists in Mozambique, the main buyers of their works are foreign tourists. Since tourism is considered one of the four pillars of the economy, the sector provides the primary source of income for those who struggle to live and create with whatever materials they have.
Artists put their works, sculptures, or paintings on display at fairs or cultural events, which usually take place in the city center. Exhibitions and galleries provide limited opportunities for a few artists lucky enough to make a name for themselves.
However, everything was changed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Exhibitions in closed spaces stopped, art galleries and fairs saw few visitors, and the already-limited channels for art displays disappeared. Amid the crisis, Afro Ivan, a 34-year-old street artist, saw an opportunity.
Based on the public paintings he and his Maputo Street Art group have made in the slum area, Unit Seven of Maputo, Ivan created a tourism program called the "art walk", guiding tourists through the alleys to see those paintings in the open area.
These public paintings break the time and space constraints of the traditional way of display, giving them a unique advantage, which has been the main selling point and helping create a new tourist attraction for the neighborhoods, said Ivan.
For a fee of 1,500 meticais (about 23 U.S. dollars), any visitor can spend an hour or two on a guided walk through Unit Seven, discovering art in the most unconventional places.
If not for the paintings or the tour, those places would never have been known to foreign tourists because the mere word "slum" is repulsive to them. Now foreigners are willing to pay to spend hours there, feeling the connection between a work of art and the environment that nurtured it in the most direct way.
"Traditionally, our artists are kind of trapped on just painting canvas, painting for the events downtown. My idea is to bring the art back to where I grew up, to the community that has provided us with a constant source of creativity," said Ivan.
On one round of walk, visitors can see at least 20 paintings in various styles and themes scattered in the neighborhoods, while possibly getting an up-close look at the residents' daily life.
When asked if strangers poking around posed any intrusion on the locals' lives, Nona Massangaie, one resident in Unit Seven, said she did not think so and she felt that Ivan's program has made her neighborhood more dynamic and attractive.
"These are very beautiful paintings, and they can inspire people passing by and create a certain curiosity, which is very good because it makes the neighborhood more alive," said Massangaie.
Federica D. Andreagiovanni, an Italian tourist joining the walk with her husband and two children, said she would like to encourage all visitors to tour this "vibrant part of the town."
"Because they will learn something about the history of Maputo, the graffiti art; and it's a very child-friendly tour and you can go along with your children, which is precious," said Andreagiovanni.
The Maputo Street Art group has ten artists contributing in their own way to Ivan's culture walk program, including photography, painting, graphic design and traditional instrument playing.
"We make it more interesting. Instead of just seeing the difficulties and poverties, there is something more attractive, more colorful with a little bit stories of those places," said Ivan.
Since Ivan's program has been getting more and more attention, he said his team is planning to organize a culture festival, moving from one neighborhood to another and bringing different forms of urban art together.
"We just want to break down that philosophy that everything happens downtown," said Ivan. ■
A little girl touches a painting on the wall in the slum area, Unit Seven of Maputo, Mozambique, Nov. 13, 2022. (Xinhua/Nie Zuguo)
A boy sits against a wall with a painting on it in the slum area, Unit Seven of Maputo, Mozambique, Nov. 13, 2022. (Xinhua/Nie Zuguo)
A tourist takes a photo of a painting on the wall in the slum area, Unit Seven of Maputo, Mozambique, Nov. 13, 2022. (Xinhua/Nie Zuguo)