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  • Ariadna Herrera, 6, poses for Cuban artist Maisel Lopez as he paints the wall of a state art gallery in Havana, April 18, 2017.

    Ariadna Herrera, 6, poses for Cuban artist Maisel Lopez as he paints the wall of a state art gallery in Havana, April 18, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

"A mural is constantly in interaction with the public," said Lopez, inspired by Jose Marti's words, "children are the hope of the world."

The gigantic black and white portraits of children started appearing on walls around a suburban neighborhood of Havana two years ago, the work of Cuban artist Maisel Lopez.

The sober, finely painted portraits contrast with Cuba's colorful vintage cars and the pink, apricot and turquoise paint on eclectic architecture.

With nearly 30 murals completed, Lopez said he is only getting started on his "Colossi" series.

"I want to keep expanding further afield," said Lopez, 31, who started painting the walls of homes and shops in his home district of Playa and is now completing his first mural in neighboring Marianao.

A chubby girl with wispy blond hair wistfully rests her chin on her hands, while a black boy with angular features peers at passersby with a slight air of defiance.

Only one other artist in Havana, Yulier Rodriguez, has an equally recognizable assortment of street art. His figures are alien, the murals colorful. Lopez's subjects are realistic and monochrome.

A portrait in the Colosos series by Maisel Lopez, painted on a wall in the Buena Vista neighborhood | Photo: Maisel Lopez

Lopez said in an interview last week that political art led him to paint murals. He helped with several celebrating the Bolivarian revolution during a cultural mission in 2009 to Cuba's socialist ally Venezuela.

"A mural is constantly in interaction with the public," said Lopez, whose work is inspired by Cuban independence hero Jose Marti, who said "children are the hope of the world".

"That's why I paint the children big, to mark their importance," he said.

Each colossus is several meters tall and takes Lopez four days to a week to paint. Each depicts a child living in the vicinity. He does not charge to paint them.

Instead, he earns a living teaching art classes and selling canvas portraits that can fetch up to US$1500.

Locals have declared themselves fans and guardians of his work, looking after it as people stop to take photographs.

"It's really striking and gives life to the street," said Vivian Herrera, 47, who runs a bakery next to one of the murals. "It's like the girl is really there, with her big, open eyes."

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