Love and Art and the Brazilian Government, Oh My

Towards the end of April I had the pleasure of attending a Latin Americanist Lunch at OU entitled “Amar sem Temer”: Street Art and Resistance in Brazil. The lecture was hosted by Professor Mischa Klein, who lived in São Paolo for 6 years and served as the Faculty in Residence at OU’s Brazilian study center in the time surrounding the Rio Olympics. During our hour with her, she discussed the political and social context in Brazil following the Olympics and Michel Temer coming into power as the country’s 37th president, the street art culture and its impact on the Brazilian people, and the use of street art as a widespread forum for political discourse among the people and commentary on various issues such as gender-related violence.

One of the major issues Professor Klein focused on was the “Cidade Linda” or “beautiful city” campaign in São Paolo. The city’s mayor, João Doria, decided to “beautify” the streets by ordering all graffiti and tagging to be covered up by gray paint in a wave known by the people as The Gray Tide. Below is a picture taken from The Guardian of a worker covering up street art:

See the source imageA massive amount of art was wiped out by this campaign, including some done by Eduardo Kobra, an internationally famous artist who does massive portraits and was even commissioned for a work for the Rio Olympics. One of the works covered was an 11×17 meter portrait done by Kobra… a huge, beautiful piece of art, completely gone. Here is one of Kobra’s most recent works so you can see how talented he is. This specific piece is a tribute to Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, from streetartnews.com:

Works like this and pieces from many other talented artists were harshly silenced by sprayers and paint rollers. But the artists and the people of Brazil refused to let their culture be erased, and street art is still a very important part of the aesthetic of cities like Rio and São Paolo. It was officially legalized in Rio in 2009 and is recognized as urban art that may be done in any public space or with the consent/invitation of a building’s owner.

More recently, the focus of a lot of the cities’ graffiti has shifted to an explicit commentary on Temer, Brazil’s current president. A large percentage of the population does not support him or his legislation, and art depicting him as a vampire or with the slogan “Fora Temer” (leave/get out Temer) has popped up all over. The “Fora Temer” movement has even gone so far as making it into the commercial realm of the cities; in many stores, customers who say the phrase receive a 15 or 20% discount.

The power of art never ceases to astound me and move me in new ways, and Brazil’s street art scene is no exception. If you have the time, just google Brazil street art (or Rio street art or São Paolo or whichever city strikes your fancy) and you will see a rich, colorful, and powerful world; graffiti artists have something to say, and even if their work is painted over, torn down, or covered up they cannot be silenced… Viva a arte!

Implications of Brexit for Ireland

So a few weeks back for one of my international events I attended a lecture given by Adrian Farrell, the Consul General of Ireland for the American Southwest. Over a catered lunch from Panera (which was awesome for a broke college kid without a meal plan), he discussed the impact and implications Brexit has for Ireland and the Irish people.

The two key questions for Farrell revolve around Ireland and the Irish economy. Since Northern Ireland is a part of the UK, they are involved in Brexit even though the majority of the country voted to remain in the European Union. The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have had a long and rocky history, and Brexit threatens to upend the current state of peace and reconciliation that the two countries have fought so long to achieve. The border between the two is currently fully open, with 260 major road crossings according to Farrell. And with the Republic of Ireland’s single-market economy (free movement of goods, people, etc.) and over $75 billion of trade each year, the reformation of a hard border separating them from Northern Ireland or the stoppage of trade with the UK would be devastating to Ireland’s economy. The Dublin-London air route is one of the busiest in the world, and up to 40% of Irish exports in areas like food and agriculture go to the UK. Farrell stressed that Brexit must not lead to the reformation of a hard border, and that Ireland must continue to be a trading nation regardless of the other outcomes of Brexit.

He also discussed the outlook of the Irish people surrounding the issue. After Brexit, Ireland will be the only English-speaking member of the EU, and they are already the only English-speaking member of the euro currency zone. Over 80% of the Irish population now agrees that Ireland should stay in the EU, and most of them believe that the EU needs to continue to reform. Farrell believes they should work harder to engage citizens in a direct democracy, and that structural funds, which are transferred to poorer states to help boost them, need to be strengthened, as well as believing a new Marshall Plan for Africa is needed.

Even with the areas that he said needed improvement, Farrell’s optimism and positive view of his country and the EU were very obvious. He discussed the impact of the Erasmus Program, which invests heavily in education and cross-border cooperation, and highlighted that 20% of people currently living in Ireland were born elsewhere. They also have a 6% unemployment rate that has been pretty steadily dropping.

Even though there are still many uncertainties with Brexit, and the March 29, 2019 date is fast approaching, the EU has shown remarkable solidarity in supporting Ireland and their continued peace with Northern Ireland. Farrell’s talk was one of the most hopeful and confident political discussions I have been privy to in a long time, and his portrayal of Ireland definitely convinced me that it needs to be moved up a few spots on my bucket list.

If you’re interested in reading more about Mr. Farrell or about the Erasmus Program, here are a couple of good links:

https://www.dfa.ie/irish-consulate/austin/about-us/consul-general/
https://esn.org/erasmus