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Argentines use murals to draw awareness to missing children

A growing number of urban artists are painting the faces of missing Argentine children on walls in a bid to raise awareness about their disappearances. The murals are visible to pedestrians and motorists in strategic parts of the capital.

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A man walks by a mural of Daiana Garnica, a 17-year-old girl who has been missing since last year, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on May 15, 2018. The image is one of five paintings of missing youngsters on walls across Buenos Aires to raise awareness about their disappearances.

Victor R. Caivano/AP

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Daiana Garnica's sparkling eyes catch the attention of many passers-by in Argentina's capital, where her face is painted on a wall in a plea for help to find the teenager who disappeared one year ago.

Ms. Garnica's image is one of five paintings of missing young people put on walls across Buenos Aires in a bid to raise awareness about their disappearances.

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The initiative, which is led by the private group Missing Children Argentina under the #ParedesQueBuscan, or #WallsThatSearch, slogan, is supported by a growing number of urban artists who hope their work helps the search become more visible.

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"I wanted to communicate the gaze, which is the strongest, so that the image has an impact," artist Sebastian Richeri told The Associated Press. "So you stop and stare at it, instead of looking at it like just another face."

A bright orange neon light surrounds the teenager's smiling face, which is painted in black and white and tones of grey that contrast with a colorful background resembling a galaxy. Garnica's portrait is on the exterior wall of a bus terminal in the Villa Crespo neighborhood, where urban art is often displayed in murals.

Mr. Richeri, who signs his work "Chispart," a nickname that combines "spark" in Spanish and "art," based the painting on one of the photographs the family has used in the search for Garnica, who went missing at age 17.

She was last seen on May 6, 2017, when she went out shopping with Dario Suarez, a neighbor in her small community in the northern Argentine province of Tucuman. Mr. Suarez is the only person arrested in the case so far. He is accused of playing a role in her disappearance. Authorities have offered a reward of about $6,000 for information leading to Garnica's whereabouts.

"Tucuman doesn't have enough means to look for missing people," Daiana's sister, Sonia Garnica, told the AP. "Nothing that the [authorities] have said has been satisfactory."

She suspects that her sister, a cheerful teenager who was close to her family, was delivered to a prostitution ring. But she remains hopeful.

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"I think this [mural project] that spreads her image is going to help speak to the public conscience, and reinforce the fact that there's a family waiting for her," she said. "If they think like a father, a mother, a family member, it will move them to speak out."

The national registry of missing minors says 1,154 are still missing out of the 2,571 cases reported last year nationwide. Most are between the ages of 13 and 17, and girls predominate among the missing.

The campaign was launched by Missing Children and the advertising agency DDB Argentina. All the images share the same deep gaze in the eyes. In a corner of each mural, the artist has painted the name and age of the missing youngster, and a telephone number to call in case anyone has information.

"The person who sees this wall will say: Why is this face here?" said Missing Children Argentina President Lidia Grichener, standing in front of a mural of Salome Valenzuela in the neighborhood of Palermo.

The walls are visible to pedestrians and motorists in strategic parts of the capital and photos of the painted portraits have been widely viewed and shared on social media.

"That way, the images of these eyes can reach other eyes," Richeri said.

This story was reported by The Associated Press.