Art rehab: swapping weapons for paintbrushes

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Published:  September 11, 2015
Eloise Mahoney

Pachuca Paints, a government-sponsored project has turned the tiny town of Las Palmitas, Mexico into the country’s largest mural. Using over 20,000 litres of paint, 209 homes have been transformed into an impressive swirl of rainbow by graffiti artists from the collective, German Crew.

The crew made up of ex-convicts and former drug gang members swapped guns for paintbrushes in an effort to unite the oppressed neighbourhood and build a greater sense of trust with the locals.
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The initiative to use painting as a form of rehabilitation and healing has had significant results for many people struggling to get their life on track. There have been similar instances like the Pachuca Paints project around the world with prisoners turning to art as a tool for social and mental transformation. Two inmate-artists from the Graterford prison in Philadelphia (the city of murals) created the beautiful Healing Walls mural while artist David Mesguich worked with prisoners to transform the grey cement walls inside the Beaumettes prison in France.

Over in the UK, the Koestler Trust one of the country’s best-known prison art charity has been selling artwork by offenders and detainees for over 50 years. They encourage those behind bars to put their emotions and feelings into creativity. Founder, Arthur Koestler says ‘the prisoner’s worst enemy is boredom, depression, the slow death of thought’. Art is a way to fill the gaps of despair with hope and achievement.

. (AP Photo/Sofia Jaramillo)

Artist painting the large than life mural in Mexico. Image by Sofia Jaramillo

The vibrant hill of Las Palmitas. Image by Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

The vibrant hill of Las Palmitas. Image by Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

But outside the prison walls in the small town of Las Palmitas, graffiti art is providing an amazing healing power for restoring humanity. German Crew have been hard at work, painting a mesmerising mural which covers 20,000 meters spanning across the hillside houses. The colourful transformation of the town can be seen from the distance with the brightly painted houses now visible from afar in the district of Pachuca.

German Crew have found this project has helped turn their lives around but also the lives of those in the community. The crew members extended the paintbrush to local residents asking them to help collaborate on the mural. According to Streets Art News the 452 families living in Las Palmitas have seen a reduction in crime since the mural began. The vibrant design has changed the character of the once sketchy town into a place where people after no longer afraid to venture outside their homes.

German Crew artist paints on the streets of Pachuca OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

German Crew artist gets up high to paint the mural.  Image by Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

An artist paints a wall of one of the alleys of the hill "Las Palmitas" in Pachuca,  (Photo credit should read OMAR TORRES/AFP/Getty Images)

Artist hard at work painting one of the many alleys.  Image by Omar Torres/AFP/Getty Images

 (AP Photo/Sofia Jaramillo)

Graffiti artist painting flowers on the wall. Image by Sofia Jaramillo

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Images by Sofia Jaramillio and Omar Torres

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