Police in Mexico City have gone from hunting vandals down to escorting artists whose work thrives on the streets to walls where they can paint free of the pressures of illegal activity.

A few years ago, the Mexico City Police Department anti-graffiti unit became the graffiti unit. The force in the national capitol has gone from targeting graffiti writers to promoting the work of street artists by providing them with space in which to create their art, as Al Jazeera reported.

As awesome as this proposition sounds, it’s hard not to be wary of the direct politicization of art. Granted, street art and graffiti have long become commonplace in both the art worlds and the public sphere. However, here, the police seem to be conflating the terms “graffiti” and “street art,” as the goal of promoting the latter in a politically sanctioned way is an effort to reduce the-perceived unsightly presence of the former. This seems slightly suspect, as there runs a risk of the artist’ or writer’s agency becoming weakened, for the sake of the legally safe spaces.

But one source in this Al Jazeera video swears the young artists involved are taking inspiration from the socially potent work of Diego Rivera and other Mexican muralists, without compromising their ideals. And certainly this isn’t the first time a Mexican political body has advocated public art—the revolution government promoted murals of social and political messages throughout the 1920s and later; the climate is much different than at that time.

“I don’t work on any political campaigns because I don’t want my work to be tied to any political parties,” the artist Samir says in the clip, emphasizing that point as he paints in his studio. "I prefer to express my own opinions."

Elsewhere, the act of completing a massive mural, with or without social commentary, in Mexico City is still enough to inspire us—as Augustine Kofie showed us last week. And that seems to be one result of this new legal program already: murals are getting larger, more complex, and just that much more beautiful. We'll see how this progresses. 

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[via Al Jazeera]