Street artist C215 paints ‘smiles and humanity’ on the walls of Ukraine

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IN IMAGES, IN PICTURES – In the tragic universe of a city damaged by war, the French stencil artist Christian Guémy tries to cover the walls with images of peace and innocence.

On a bus shelter in kyiv, Christian Guémy, alias C215, brings the final touch to the blue and yellow portrait of a little girl, a colorful contrast with the buildings destroyed by the bombardments surrounding it. “It’s a sign of support”explains to AFP the 48-year-old artist, spray paint in hand: “If it can bring a little smile or a little humanity to a difficult situation, then I’m satisfied”.

Figure of French street art, C215 arrived in Ukraine, in the middle of the war, to cover the walls with images of peace and innocence. After the Russian invasion, the former collaborator of Banksy had already produced a huge fresco of the same girl in the colors of the Ukrainian flag on a facade in the south of Paris. But C215 believes that he had “no other choice” to come to Ukraine despite the danger, after meeting Ukrainians and wondering for several days what more he could do to help them. “I didn’t really decide to come to kyiv, my paintings decided for me”he explains while locals stop to photograph him hard at work.

His mural of the girl with a wreath in her hair is located near a metro station and a market badly damaged by a strike – proof, he says, that Russia is deliberately targeting civilians. “It’s very intense to see the contrast with the bombed-out building behind,” he says. “If you want to do street art that talks about war, the work has to be where the war is going on and it has to show the destruction and the situation in that country”.

Mural of a girl near a metro station in kyiv, April 1, 2022. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

The world of childhood

C215’s journey has been complicated: he was born in 1973 in Bondy, a suburb of Paris, to a teenage mother who killed herself when he was five years old. A break with the mother of his first child will be another profound shock. He abandons everything to tag, stencils the portrait of his daughter to “channeling (his) depression” and develops his stencil technique.

It is now displayed in several districts of the Ukrainian capital. With AFP, C215 goes around his works: one was painted on a rusty panel near the city’s television tower, targeted in early March by a missile strike that left five people dead. Elsewhere, a portrait of a young girl is displayed in the same faded red and cream colors as the abandoned tram car it was drawn on, near a checkpoint. He also tagged in Lviv, in the west of the country, where a strike targeted a petrol depot during his stay, and in Zhitomir (center).

French painter C215 paints a new mural of a little girl, this time blue and yellow, near buildings damaged by Russian bombing in kyiv on April 1, 2022. RONALDO SCHEMIDT / AFP

The world of childhood that haunts his work, he said he felt “too French, too tragic” to continue his collaboration with Banksy, is evident in his Ukrainian works. “A child is an innocent, a child does not have to face war and in this war there are millions of mothers and children who are scattered all over Europe”, did he declare. Riding away in the rain in his balaclava, C215 says he will definitely return to Kyiv. And the reaction of Ukrainians to his works? “Great, that’s what makes me happy”he said.

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