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Watch: The Caracas artists reclaiming slum spaces from poverty and propaganda

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Solymar hopes to change perceptions of the neighbourhood
Solymar hopes to change perceptions of the neighbourhood -
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Reuters
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In the sprawling slum of Petare in the east of Venezuela's capital of Caracas, 31-year-old Fabian Solymar begins sketching a mural of abstract figures on a wall covered with Socialist Party political propaganda.

The mural will eventually cover up a campaign ad for a state governor and an image of the eyes of late President Hugo Chavez – an artistic response to the ruling party's iconography scattered across public spaces in the struggling OPEC nation.

The pastel-coloured mural has another mission too – to change the image of Petare, one of Latin America's largest slums and one that has historically been better known for violent crime and gang rivalries than for public art.

"The idea is for people to feel that this is not a place of delinquents, but of people who work," said Solymar, who goes by the nickname Dagor, while working on a mural on a recent August afternoon. "There are engineers, there are architects, there is a bit of everything. I have come across all types of professions and there is this misconception that all neighbourhoods are dangerous but it is not true."

Solymar says he is inspired by Los Angeles-based street artist Revok as well as late Venezuelan artist Carlos Cruz-Diez, who used colour and lines to create a sense of movement in his pioneering artwork displayed in public areas in Caracas.

Venezuela has one of South America's highest homicide rates at 56.8 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations – and Petare's homicide rate is nearly twice that, according to the non-profit Venezuelan Observatory of Violence.

Solymar is leading the initiative along with other artists and Petare residents, who have so far painted nine murals in Petare's hillside slums. They seek out places where people congregate, or places where rubbish tends to pile up, in an effort to create a contrast with the city's often bleak reality.

Petare resident Katiuska Camargo said: "The connection between art and the people is amazing, because in spaces where there was trash, now there is art. And many (murals) were created six years ago and there hasn't been any trash. And in the places where there is a bit trash, we remove it, the artist arrives, elaborates his work and creates magic."

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