Winnipeg artist trying to make inner-city back lanes feel safer through wildlife-themed murals

A Winnipeg artist is embarking on a new project to beautify inner-city back lanes.

Multidisciplinary artist Nereo Zorro, who has been living in Mexico for the last two years, recently returned to Winnipeg and began his project in the back lane of Langside Street.

“I wanted to really utilize this time that I’m here to push for beautifying public spaces. Specifically the back lanes, because I think it’s a space that isn’t always acknowledged or used,” he said.

His plan is to paint 37 murals across Canada, specifically targeting the back lanes of streets to bring in a sense of safety to the neighborhoods. Zorro plans to feature wildlife in this series — saying he was inspired by fellow artist Kal Barteski and her series Back Alley Arctic.

“I wanted to highlight the wildlife in the world. I care a lot about our environment and the connection that we have with nature,” he said.

Zorro’s first piece was a fox mural, on a garage across from the Furby Tot Lot. As he was painting, he said he heard people shouting from afar and saw people digging through the trash bins.

“It may be it may seem [like] a rough neighborhood. I think maybe it is. It was kind of hard to see.”

Nereo Zorro’s fox mural, which lives at Langside Street’s back lane, was the first of his new series featuring wildlife. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

He said the homeowner felt a mural in the space would benefit the community by making it feel more family-oriented and family-safe, and Zorro was on board. Especially since he had a personal connection to the area.

“I grew up on Furby Street back in the early ’90s. That was my first home, and to revisit that space was kind of nostalgic,” he said.

Indira Rampersad’s garage on Westminster Avenue was the location for Zorro’s next piece, which features rabbits. She said the idea came from her son, Nathaniel. But she didn’t know Zorro would be painting rabbits that represented her and her son.

“That was a real treat because it’s a reminder to me of my relationship with Nathaniel all the time,” Rampersad said.

It was special for Zorro as well — he said a few minutes after he did the first outline, he saw two rabbits in a similar position to the ones on the mural.

Massage therapist Indira Rampersad is the owner of one of the Winnipeg homes painted by Nereo Zorro. The rabbits were the idea of ​​her son, Nathaniel. (Travis Golby/CBC)

Rampersad, who has been a fan of Zorro’s for a long time, said she first came across his project on a social media post he made. She contacted him and they discussed the piece. They agreed on an artist’s fee and he spent two days painting her garage. For Rampersad it was no question. She really believes in his new project and wanted to support him in any way she could.

“My wish for him is that his work spreads around the world,” she said.

Rampersad believes in bringing nature into more of the city. She said it could be a way for people to reconnect with nature and each other.

“Maybe people will spend time together more and want to be outside together,” Rampersad said, “Maybe people start inviting each other over for dinner and helping each other with the yard work. Or working together to clean up a space. Maybe something like that.”

Professor of urban geography Jino Distasio said art in public spaces, like Zorro’s back lane murals, sends the message that Winnipeg’s inner-city has a rich history that needs to be experienced.

“When artists give back to the community and in a manner like this, it really says people care. They care about their communities and they care about the way in which we perceive our city and our not only our front lanes, but our back streets as well,” Distasio said.

Professor of urban geography Jino Distasio said the city of Winnipeg needs to start bringing art into the streets and communities and make them more welcoming. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

I said the perception of Winnipeg’s downtown being unsafe is something the city has been wrestling with for a long time. But he thinks Winnipeggers like himself, who spend the majority of their time in the downtown area, feel it’s a great place.

“Experience the history, the culture, the streets, the shops and all the rest of the different little experiences that make Winnipeg such a really unique, cultural expression of places,” Distasio said.

Zorro said he feels that art is healing, and this is an important part of his project.

“It’s not the Band-Aid situation solution to everything. But I do think that the arts allow us to go touch a deeper space within ourselves and learn more about who we are,” he said.

“I think art is an amazing vehicle for social change.”

Zorro has plans to paint a mural in Hamilton, Calgary, and different places in British Columbia this summer.

Making inner-city back lanes feel safer through art

Winnipeg artist Nereo Zorro is embarking on a new project to beautify the inner-city. His plan is to paint 37 murals across Canada, specifically targeting the back lanes of streets to bring in a sense of safety to the neighborhoods.

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