Monday, April 18, 2016

Revivarte in São Paulo

I grew up in Chicago, a relatively big city, but it is more than five times smaller than where I just returned from. São Paulo is not only the biggest city in Brazil, it’s the biggest city in the entire southern hemisphere, and it was the last stop on my month long adventure leading mural projects with the support of the U.S. State Department and The Meridian International Center.  I came from Rio, which is often compared to São Paulo, using U.S. cities as measures, with Rio being like the Miami/LA of Brazil (fun and sun), and São Paulo the New York (all business). 

São Paulo is also known internationally as a leader in street art, from the ever expanding tendrils of pixação that tattoo the facades of most buildings, to the world class outdoor galleries of beautiful, comical and at times pointed graffiti that adorn highways, bridges and neighborhoods by artists like Nunca, Mag Magrela and Paulo Ito. But unlike most metropolises, street artists, pixadores and muralists don’t have to compete with advertisers for space, because in the city of São Paulo … billboards are completely banned!

Pixação above tags

No more billboards
After getting a quick security briefing from Cultural Affairs Specialist Joyce Costa and her colleagues at the U.S. Consulate (use big city sense, dengue is worse then zika here), we were off to meet folks at Parede Viva (Living Wall), a muito legal arts organization that would be my partner for the mural project I’d be leading in the comunidade of Água Branca. In their animated, art-filled space, I met Mundano, Fel, Daniela, Kaleb and filmmaker Adriano Choque

Parede Viva
In the past few years, they had initiated a fantastic project called Revivarte in two comunidades, Parque do Gato and Água Branca. In that short time, they had painted a dozen giant murals on the facades of buildings throughout the neighborhoods, done workshops with local kids and started a new campaign to address community concerns. “Our goal is clear: We want social transformation through art,” says Fel. “Graffiti is the armed wing of hip-hop — armed with paints and ideas. And when an idea is expressed through art, it is much more effective. We attack the eye, the vision.”
Part of the Revivarte project in Água Branca

This was a revelation for me. For so long I had been used to working in places where there were few if any murals, and the ones that did exist were rarely there to create “Social transformation.” To be in an environment where the culture already supported this kind of work was inspiring. Walking around Água Branca with Fel, Mundano and Kaleb, I got to see many of these remarkable murals. The abundance of paintings on the walls made me wonder if the impact and understanding of murals and graffiti is different than what I’m used to in the U. S.  In Brazil, spraypaint is everywhere (unlike Chicago where spraypaint has been banned within city limits). What could I possibly add to this thriving people’s art gallery?

Água Branca
Later, during a panel discussion I was on with the artist Alexandre Keto, at a cultural space behind a eye glasses shop, someone in the audience asked, “But isn’t most of this street art here really just for tourists?” It is a good question, and one that I’ve been thinking about for awhile. Back in the U.S. in places like Bushwick (New York) and Wynood (Miami) street art is being used to speed and smooth the process of gentrification. In Brazil, there are certainly areas that have been created and maintained to attract tourists, but there are also tons of other public paintings – many with social and political themes. The community-based landscape designer Steve Rasmussen Cancian once advised me, “It’s not if you paint a mural, but what the content is.” “If you’re being asked to do something that’s just decorative, meant to enhance curb appeal and doesn’t relate to the place or engage the people who live there, you should think twice, but if you are working with local people on a project that supports them and doesn’t shy away from the realities of gentrification and social equity you’re probably okay.”

Check out my last blog post from Brazil, the Água Branca project, coming soon…

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