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  HOME | Central America

Murals Depicting Panama’s Ethnic Roots Spring Up across Capital

PANAMA CITY – Panama City is enjoying a Renaissance with murals springing up across the Central American capital which has become a canvass for international street artists.

The practice, championed by local artists in run-down neighborhoods, has seen the city become awash in vibrant and vast artworks depicting Panamanians of African descent.

Some 26 murals tell the diverse story of this city, part of a project promoted by the city government.

“Attractive spaces are created for people to identify with these murals and in the process create a sense of belonging,” Genaro Villalaz, head of the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Panama City, told EFE.

A good example of this trend is a now-iconic mural titled La Negra of Rio Abajo, featuring a black woman with large brown eyes adorned in a beautiful and colorful turban.

“The interesting thing is that this is an area of predominantly African-descendant. Many of the people who came to work in the Panama Canal were located in this place.”

One of the promoters of this initiative was architect, environmentalist and former vice mayor of Panama City (2014-2019) Raisa Banfield, who told EFE the idea is to turn the city into a permanent exhibition “for the enjoyment of its inhabitants and visitors and also for young artists.”

“Each of the murals that were made in these 26 neighborhoods of the Panamanian capital represents human diversity, the natural wealth of the place, its expressiveness, the ethnicities therein, and stories of characters from the community,” he explained.

In the San Felipe Neri Market, on Avenida B in Panama City, a place where all kinds of people come together to buy food, clothes and crafts, there is a mural of five women – one white, one black and three of the Guna, Embera-Wounaanand, Ngöbe-Bugle indigenous groups – dressed in heritage costumes and standing entwined by their hair and accessories.

Another mural depicts several types of traditional Pinoo hats, used in the Panamanian countryside and declared an intangible cultural heritage by Unesco in 2017.

Just outside the Afro-Antillean Museum of Panama, located in Plaza 5 de Mayo, where “part of the history of Afro-descendants in Panama is exhibited,” a mural titled The Contribution of Afro-Antilleans in the Development of the Country by artist Martanoemi Noriega.

These murals “are not graffiti on a whim,” the former mayor said,

These artworks tell a story and have helped the status of street artists, previously considered urban vandals, Banfield continued.

On Via Israel, one of the busiest streets in the capital, the work We Are All Born Free and Equal makes a nod to article 1 of the Declaration of Human Rights.

In about 50 meters you can see 49 faces, of different ethnicities, bearing diverse expressions and in striking colors, made by several street artists.

On the Simon Bolivar or Transistmica Avenues, five murals denounce how humans threaten nature.

Mangrove and Human Footprint sprawls under a bridge and uses the pillars to create the shrubs and small trees that would have once grown in the area and how pollution has changed the landscape.

The head of the Department of Culture of the Municipality of Panama told EFE that in a new stage of the project that started in 2014, 10 more murals will be created in spots with a heavy footfall so they can be admired by many.


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