Artist Promotes Peace On The Border

By Mónica Ortiz Uribe
March 12, 2014
Courtesy of Gasak
South African graffiti artist Gasak paints a portrait of Nelson Mandela on a concrete culvert at the U.S/Mexico border.

A 23-year-old graffiti artist from South Africa is visiting the United States-Mexico border to do a mural project promoting peace. His goal is to inspire young people.

Anthony Kirkwood, whose artistic name is Gasak, started painting in high-crime neighborhoods in his native South Africa. There he saw how poverty and drugs wreaked havoc on young people. He himself was beaten and robbed while working outside a nightclub in Durban.

For his latest project, Gasak decided to come to the U.S.-Mexico border, where drug violence has taken thousands of lives in the last five years. 
"I wanted to go where the heart of the drug war is," he said. "And I did a lot of research and I came up with Juárez and El Paso."

Outside the Juárez city hall on a recent afternoon, Gasak tested a bottle of gold spray paint. Not far from there he's painting the face of Nelson Mandela on a concrete culvert that separates the United States and Mexico. He plans to portray seven more inspirational leaders, including Pope Francis and Martin Luther King, in El Paso and Juárez.

"I wanna bring peace and awareness to this drug war," he said. "And the best way that I can do that is through my art."

Courtesy of Gasak
Gasak, a graffiti artist from South Africa, paints the face of Mother Teresa in a Juárez neighborhood.

The geographic location of the murals will form a heart across both cities. Gasak is collaborating with other young artists, including a local filmmaker.

Carolina Frederick is a Juárez city councilwoman who's supporting the project.

"It's really nice to see someone fighting for all the young kids and encourage them to be away from organized crime," she said.

Drug trafficking organizations in Juárez recruit young people to work as drug mules or hit men. The majority of those killed by drug violence here are younger than age 35.