The Dutch have a saying “He who is outside his door has the hardest part of his journey behind him.” Anastasiya Fomchyna, an international lawyer, started on a journey from her hometown in Minsk, Belarus that brought her all over the world to learn more about human rights and refugee protection while working in the Red Cross in Belgium, volunteering in China and Guatemala. However, it wasn’t until 2013 that she flew to Mexico for a project and ended up in Cancun where she a strong connection to the culture.
After receiving her master’s degree in international law in 2015, she returned to Cancun and founded the educational initiative Platforma (“platform”).
Platforma organizes community-driven programs aimed to gather young people through a number of workshops, courses, events and expositions. This creative platform has provided the opportunity for locals to become meaningful contributors in the social and economic aspects of the city.
I had the opportunity to discuss Anastasiya her thoughts on the importance of street art and graffiti in developing the community, and the ways in which Platforma has integrated education to enhance the Mexican street art scene.
It was a spontaneous encounter that impacted me and directed my professional life. At the time, I was studying International Law and had the opportunity to travel. My journey brought me to Mexico where Cancun’s art movement had just started. Liz Rashell, the director of World Art Destinations, brought the first International Festival of Public Art (FIAP) to the city. Cancun transformed into a giant canvas as young people gathered to make interesting events, bazaars, festivals.
I watched as pieces took form, the projects very collaborating. It was incredible and very inspiring. I liked this way of creating life. It was a free, wild and very attractive world. I think it was the first time when I truly fell in love with street art.
Would you give us a brief explanation of what Platforma is all about?
In 2016, when I founded Platforma, I wanted to organize urban project that use art-education to further develop the community and create new channels for young people to express themselves through street art.
It began with hosting walking tours that showcased the history of Cancun, its connection to Mayan culture, local projects, art organizations, street art and the street artists. The tours were free and soon became a referential mark in the city.
From there, I focused on different socially-driven events programming at different places around the city that were conducive to the urban lifestyle. Street art, underground cinema, skateboarding, fashion show, alternative music… Graffiti and street art workshops … In every event we had the educational part when the invited experts were showing, teaching, sharing their experience with the public in an open and creative way.
I was very inspired and motivated by how well the events were received and the positivity it brought to the city. My background had been focused on human rights protection and refugee rights. – Now, I wanted to work with inner-city teenagers and provide a platform where they could develop their creative/artistic skills through photography, painting, cinema and other mediums. I believe it’s an excellent way to encourage, and help realize someone’s own potential.
I invited the stand-out teachers and experts within the local realm of art, fashion, design and photography to make workshops in the parks or in collaboration houses, It was a wonderful opportunity for everybody to meet and learn from Riviera Maya’s experts.
The workshops started on a good note with a lot of participants however I saw that young people more interested in graffiti weren’t attending. With the help of a Cancun-based street-artist Raul Lopez, we launched a course in graffiti for those specifically interested in learning and cultivating a style in that medium. It also encompassed learning how to paint large-scale murals as well as stencils.
At the beginning all the activities were free and now, with our second course of graffiti we put the cost for the course and offered two scholarships for beginning street artists.
Do you think graffiti or mural art can be taught?
Yes, it can and should be taught. Street art has educational value and can mold public attitudes. It encourages constructive behaviors and can lead to a mutual respect, common goals and aspirations.
I believe that the more we inform today’s youth of the history, which these artistic mediums came about, the more knowledge and respect they cultivate. It can truly make a difference in the world around us. Street art is a great tool to generate positive changes. Along with a team of dedicated teachers and participants it can go a long way.
There are many rewards in this work; entering an artist’s world and living within, seeing the reaction of the people, their support, good words and reference, seeing the artists painting with the kids, and how bright their eyes are. The excitement, when they use a can of spray paint for the first time, or they complete a drawing. Seeing that you help people who give their soul for their work is priceless.
What difficulties have you faced as a project manager?
The art market is a platform for learning, innovation and conversation. So, it comes as no surprise that you have to be motivated and passionate to thrive in it. Passion inspires hard work – and there is no secret formula, just working hard, dedicated to the goals, discipline and focus.
When I first launched Platforma, I remember walking around and knocking on doors inviting people to events. I explained the purpose of the organization and why I felt a specific location was ideal for an event or workshop.
As well one of the difficulties I had is the lack of funds. Unfortunately, due to this reason we had to cancel an important exposition, not to mention how complicated it was to get the permission from the government to host public events in some places. Working with street art is pretty much a challenge as well as a big reward.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the art scene in Cancun and point us towards hidden street art places and spaces, any recommendations for the visitors?
Cancun is a youthful city that blends tourism with local culture. From quaint urban neighborhoods to exclusive hotels. People from all over the world come to vacations, and enjoy the beaches and amenities within these modern resorts. Now, there’s even more reason to visit! There’s a wonderful street-art scene that’s vastly booming.
Organizations such as World Art Destinations, Proyecto Panorama, Varios Barrios bring the local, international street artists and keep moving things along in the city. I recommend walking around Bonampak Avenue – next to Lopez Portillo Street you’ll encounter works by well-known street artists like Nychos, Interesni Kazki, Aaron Glasson, Celeste Byers, Spok, Smithe, Curiot, Fintan Magee, among others.
You can find pleasant surprises while walking the back streets in the center. There’s a magnificent mural by El Norteño and Dherzu Uzala in Bonampak, another great work is a collaboration by artists Areuz, Guri, Felipe Cespedes along Calle Margaritas. On the corner of Chichen Itza and Palenque Street you can discover a hidden place, a local urban restaurant Mora Mora, that supports street art and musician bands holding great expositions and events.
For anyone visiting, I recommend being on the lookout for wonderful and unique artistic details behind traffic signs all over town. And, although some might quickly disappear, they often reappear in other places. In our page, Cancun Walking Tours, you can see a lot of good references of recently painted walls.
I feel that the city and the local projects should be more united. I would like authorities be more flexible and understand the potential that this form of art has. There needs to be funding and support allocated towards local talented artists and organizations. The social and educational power that urban art has needs to be seen and it needs to be a real dialogue among its citizens.
I hope that the next decade urban art will have the ability to become a lucrative aspect of the city. It’s time to flip commercial omnipresence and introduce street art into the public space in a conscious way. We need to see it naturally in streets, we need more museums, galleries, private institutions. Cancun has all the key components to be a destination filled with gorgeous street-art, and it can be done through working together.
What’s next for Platforma?
We definitely need more funds to keep working and launching more projects on a larger scale that aim to help local artists and revitalize different communities. The project will be slightly restructured, we will establish certain criterias of work that will allow to develop more partnerships and sponsorships.
To support the activity visit the Facebook page or contact Anastasiya at firstname.lastname@example.org
Special thanks to Rachel Margolin for her help.
Other projects of street art in Cancun:
World Art Destinations. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/WeAreWAD/
Proyecto Panorama. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/proyectopanorama/
Varios Barrios. Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/VariosBarrios