We are lucky to have met artist Topo (John) our host through our Medellin Airbnb stay. He offered to give us a tour of Comuna 13 where he lives below his studio and school for teaching kids arts and life skills. Before coming to Columbia, we knew nothing of its history but what we learned through bad Hollywood and outdated fears of Columbia in general. Through understanding Comuna 13, a person can grasp human potential.
Topo is an artist who like Chota, sees art as a way to lift people in Comuna 13 from the history of violence and extreme poverty here. The culture is born out of making from what is around you, using your mind to see differently, imagining a new world, clawing life from a violent past.
Comuna 13, Medellin, Columbia is exploding with color and action, however this is new. Tourism has come in response to the artist culture blooming here.
The Comuna 13 neighborhood of Medellin, Columbia was originally agricultural land on the hills of Medellin. In the 1950s it was occupied by factory workers. Like now, in times of peace, a large population of working people descended the hills to Medellin’s neighborhoods with more opportunities and returned in the evening.
Then the Escobar era dominated Comuna 13 from the 1980s and early 1990s. The area continued to be used by organized crime to move people and drugs after his death into the early 2000s because the homes are without a map. DHL and FedEx can’t deliver here. People can get lost and never found in Comuna 13.
Rural people fled from the drug trade hot spots throughout Antioquia, Columbia to Medellin to avoid being killed. John described that the landowner of the Comuna 13 area did not have an heir so, people started taking small sections out of desperation for a home.
Comuna 13 was ruled outside the laws of Columbia. Street justice included marching people at gun point for public execution, because the police could not enter the neighborhoods. In 2002, the army fought for control of the area by shooting from helicopters (Orion) into the homes of people. Many innocent people died. Artists now in their 20s and 30s lived during these times and are attempting to build a new future for the kids by putting art in front of them every day.