- Associated Press - Monday, August 6, 2012

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — In the capital of one of the world’s most dangerous countries, a hooded, masked man jumped out of a car on an assault mission.

His target: a crumbling wall on a garbage-strewn corner. With his accomplice acting as lookout, the man plastered a giant black-and-white reproduction of Leonardo da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” wielding a pink pistol. In minutes, he was gone.

The city’s self-proclaimed Urban Maeztro had struck again with another artistic “intervention” designed to make Hondurans think about the violence that has traumatized Tegucigalpa.

“The level of how common guns have become in this country has passed what is rationally admissible,” said the 26-year-old graphic artist, who left his day job at an advertising agency to become the masked crusader. “It doesn’t seem to surprise anyone, but for me it continues to be madness.”

The artist uses the street name Urban Maeztro, a stylized translation of “Urban Master,” to shield his true identity because the work is both dangerous and illegal.

In this July 29, 2012 photo, a masked artist who calls himself the Urban Maeztro and prefers to remain anonymous for security reasons, walks away after pasting one of his "interventions" on a street wall showing Rene Magritte's "Son of Man," substituting the apple covering the face of the suited subject in bowler hat with a pink grenade, in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. The 26-year-old graphic artist left his day job at an advertising agency to work on pieces like this one, to encourage Hondurans think about how violent their country has become. (AP Photo/Fernando Antonio)
In this July 29, 2012 photo, a masked artist who calls himself ... more >

He said only his closest friends know that he launches the artistic assaults, dressed in a hoodie, his face covered with a kerchief depicting a skull.

Mona Lisa with guns

The artist attracts passing viewers by defacing posters of artistic masterpieces, such as the Mona Lisa, with guns, grenades and other iconic tools of violence. He also employs more traditional graffiti, painting sections of metal light poles to look like bullets.

“There is a parallel between the brutal violation of a work so beautiful by adding a firearm and the violence and guns in Tegucigalpa, which could also be a beautiful city without them,” he said.

His canvas is the streets of the Central American city of 1.2 million, which he describes as “captive, fearful and closed by a mixture of violence, poverty and an absence of public services.”

More than 1,000 people were murdered in the Honduran capital last year, about 87 homicides for every 100,000 residents. That is 10 times the rate the World Health Organizations considers an epidemic. The number has doubled in the past five years.

Tegucigalpa’s streets are typically empty, as are public squares and other traditional meeting spots. Most people congregate in giant, indoor American-style shopping malls guarded by men with automatic rifles.

‘To help you think’

During a recent graffiti assault, even passing motorists swerved at the sight of the hooded artist in a Honduras tourist T-shirt and paint-speckled cargo pants drawing on the city’s walls.

A security guard watched, absorbed, as Urban Maeztro plastered Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” on a wall In front of the National University.

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