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!

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