“Some see it as a way of reclaiming public space, to others it's reckless vandalism.” –BBC Radio
Art is everywhere in Brazil. On the walls, on the streets, inked into the terracotta buildings. The bus ride from the Florianopolis airport to the hotel was the first time our group of fourteen American students was confronted with an urban landscape decorated with bursts of rich tones of spray and acrylic paint. Evidence of art is not reserved to one type of surface in the city. Grey walls in between buildings, sections of high rise buildings, and even residential areas are marked with a unique but evidently common form of expression: Graffiti.
In 2009, Brazil decriminalized graffiti art under law 706/07. The conditions of the law are that the artist receives permission from the building and/or property owner. The law also make a distinction between tagging (pichaco in Portuguese) and grafite or graffiti. Pichaco is considered a form of art that is used for a political statement, while grafite is simply art that uses urban space as a canvas. Pichaco seems to be more narrowly accepted by public officials as it is often used as a medium to express political opinions and dissatisfaction. Both graffiti and pichaco in Bazil have become a livelihood for many and propelled some to fame.
Nunca (never) is a street artist native to Sao Paulo who has become world famous starting with his early work in Sao Paulo. A prevalent theme in Nunca’s pieces is the depiction of the colonization Brazil underwent. Nunca’s work commonly depicts figures with afro-brazilian and indigenous features placed on modern Brazilian urban spaces. A method Nunca uses is to invoke emotion from passerby through the faces of his characters that he paints. Some of the expressions of his pieces are said to have “somber gazes with what appear to be hollow eyes.” Nunca also pays tribute to roots of Brazilian culture through the use of indigenous art techniques in regards to the color palate he uses.
The scope of Nunca’s work has also reached a global scale including murals in Milan and an invitation to exhibit in the Tate Modern Gallery in London. Nunca has also completed commercial work for Nike by designing a national pack for the Brazilian national football team. His collaboration with Nike fell under some criticism by the Graffiti population of Brazil, though. While many felt that the designs were “paying homage to traditional pichaco style of tagging,” members of the street art community felt as though the work represented a clear departure from that style of street art.
Over the past ten years, Brazil has seen a shift in the population’s attitude towards artwork that decorates the urban landscape. One of the goals of decriminalizing street art is to help foster a sense of community in cities like Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo. Even the island city of Florianopolis is a home to streets laced with pieces of street art that blur the line between random graffiti and commissioned work. When our group first arrived in Florianopolis, Santa Catarina, one of the first things we noticed was the intricate and colorful ‘graffiti’ throughout the city’s streets. Many of us were not used to seeing graffiti in such prevalence. Not only were we shocked by the amount of wall space covered with paint, it was the quality of the work that intrigued us. It is hard to walk a couple of blocks without passing a burst of color and lines depicting names, insects, or faces.
Near the hotel where our group is staying is O Padeiro de Sevilha, a cozy Spanish-inspired bakery. What attracts the attention of many onlookers is not always the food but often the intricate artworkdepicting insects in hues of violet and green. The first time I saw the façade of the building, I instantly noticed the large open-mouthed insect comprised of sharp lines, a pastel green body and orange eyes. Two smaller insects appeared to be flying below the larger one and they looked prehistoric. What is most alluring about the work is how it covers the entire expanse of the building. Inside, the building offers a pleasant atmosphere where customers of any age can pick from an array of breads and cakes. The juxtaposition of the graphic art on the outer walls with the light atmosphere of the actual cafe is something of an anomaly for many foreigners.
The exterior artwork of the bakery in Florianopolis is commissioned art. As it turns out, the artist responsible for the bakery is a twenty three year old student. While graffiti has proven to be a nuisance to many communities, especially in the United States, it appears to be doing something a bit different in Brazil. A simple Google search of local street artists generates numerous websites shedding light on the growing urban art movement.
One website in particular, FatCap.com, contains a database of artists, some world-renown and others locally known. The site includes pictures and contact information. Florianopolis has the second largest number of photos after Rio de Janeiro. Florianopolis has three local artists listed: Valdi Valdi, Vejam, and Rizo. A large amount of Rizo’s artwork could be found within a short distance from our hotel in the Center of the island. A Facebook page is also available/dedicated to the urban art scene within the Florianopolis community: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Graffiti-ARTE-Urbana-em-Florian%C3%B3polis/171063089601322.
The street art community in Brazil is definitely thriving and gaining ground on the world stage. Grafite and Pichaco give a voice to not only the artist but also the citizens. The distinction between what is ‘good’ art and what is ‘bad’ art is a topic that has recently come under question in Brazil. In 2006, a project in Sao Paulo called Cidade Limpa, Portuguese for clean city, was instated to reduce visual pollution. The act prohibits outdoor advertisements and 15,000 billboards were taken down. A major mural by Nunca and other street artists was destroyed under this act despite the fact that it was commissioned. Occurrences like this perpetuate the blur between random tagging and graffiti art. Perhaps the only ones that can make that distinction is the population as whole.