During the past three decades, Medellin, the second biggest city of Colombia, greatly suffered from violence, especially in its surrounding Barrios. Comuna 13, located along the west hills of the city, is one of those Barrios.
What the Barrio has been through
For many years, Comuna 13 was considered the most dangerous Barrio of South America, plagued by a history of crimes by the hands of guerrillas, paramilitary groups, drug cartels and local gangs. It was Pablo Escobar’s favourite area to employ young Sicarios (hitmen) to work for his cartel.
Over the years, the homicide rate kept increasing and it reached its peak on the 16th of October 2002, when the Colombian army, police, air force and paramilitary groups launched the very controversial Operation Orion to fight against left-wing militias.
Because of this operation, the slum's 100,000 residents were caught in the crossfire, leaving thousands dead and injured, even if official numbers state that only 9 people were killed during the attack...
It was after this horrifying event that the residents of Comuna 13 started to protest against violence in the area. Inhabitants went out in the streets with white rags raised for peace and solidarity. Local street artists started to paint walls and write songs in memory of innocent people who died in the conflict.
From that moment on, street art became something big in Comuna 13. Many national and international artists have come to the Barrio to express peaceful messages through art.
Since operation Orion, quality of life in the slum has improved. A metro-cable and some escalators have been built in order to facilitate access in the area. It is now even possible for tourists to visit the Comuna with local guides to discover the amazing graffiti and hip hop artists of the barrio.
Although things are getting better with time, life in Comuna 13 is still ruled by corruption and drug trafficking. Since 2009 more than 10 young hip-hop activists fighting for peace have been murdered in Medellín's Comuna 13 district.
Juda, part of the rap group called C15, is a famous MC in Comuna 13. A few years ago, he founded the Casa de Hip Hop Kolacho with some friends. Casa de Hip Hop Kolacho is an art school where kids from Comuna 13 can come at any time of the day to learn how to graph, rap or dance for free. He also guides groups of foreigners in his barrio in order to explain the street culture and talk about past events that occurred in his childhood.
The Faces, the Street Art and the Life of Communa 13
A few years ago, a young girl was killed by a stray bullet on this location. A slide has been built in her memory.
Text and photos by Aurélien Ernst