Joga Bola! Street Art Brazil explodes across Rich Mix Gallery

By Peter Yeung | 11 June 2014

As the World Cup launches in Brazil London's Rich Mix Gallery is launching its own Brazilian Festival of Street Art. Peter Yeung investigates the art of the favelas

Click below to launch a gallery of images

In March 2009, Brazil passed law 706/07 through government, finally decriminalising street art and the reality of its widespread practice.

The country itself has a longstanding heritage of graffiti that dates back around 10,000 years to the cave engravings discovered in central-eastern Brazil. Yet it is the contemporary form of street art, which emerged during the mid-20th century, that has become so prominent in Brazilian society.

While other nations may have internationally-recognisable graffiti icons - Italy’s surrealistic Blu, France’s portraitist JR, and England’s subversive Bansky - none of them embody popular culture with the ubiquity of Brazilian street.

It can be found in all the motley corners of their cities: from crumbling favelas to luxurious neighbourhoods, from the recreational areas to the official buildings.

“Perhaps the popularity has something to with the variety of expression - there are different styles of graffiti that speak for different people,” explains Tristan Manco, the curator of this upcoming exhibition at Rich Mix Gallery in east London.

a photo of a recently graffiti'd building
© Courtesy Rich Mix / The Artist
Entitled The Street Art Brazil Project, the gallery will invite four Brazilian artists to create murals, installations, and lead DIY art workshops.

“Brazil is a country of extremes and this is reflected it its graffiti, from the vandalistic urban subculture of pichação to the vast and intricate murals of artists such as Sao Paulo’s Os Gêmeos, the country’s best known graffiti artists.”

In Brazil, there is a clear distinction between tagging, known as pichação, and graffiti: the large-scale, figurative or mural street art style distinctive to the country.

The term pichação derives from the Portuguese word for tar, which the early taggers would steal from construction sites and use as their artistic medium. But for Manco, it is the local references, as well the amazing individual creativity, that make Brazilian graffiti far superior.

This is something that Rio de Janeiro authorities have been keen to stress, especially with their 1999 “Não pixe, grafite” (Don’t Tag, Graffiti) policy.

Rich Mix’s project, however, is led by artists from Brazil’s largest city, São Paulo. In particular, the legendary street poster art collective, SHN, are known for their DIY ideology and experimental ethos.

the side of a large building covered in graffiti
© Courtesy Rich Mix / The Artist
SNH explained that they first began to make art after discovering the waste of the stickers industry: “We could make a way to say what were thinking, printing it on stickers and posters then many others medias.”

It allowed them to art that was in a way a fluid, living organism. “There’s always a place, a time, some person, or a landscape that defines your work...the whole environment has major importance.”

But when it comes to Brazilian street art these days, it’s difficult to overlook the looming presence of the World Cup, which begins at the same time as this project. Some artists are positive about it, contributing to the longest continuous mural in Latin America in homage, while Os Gemêos decorated the Brazilian national football team’s plane.

Though others have been critical of the competition, believing the $11 billion should have been spent on healthcare and education.

A memorable image created by Paul Ito depicts a gaunt, teary child, with nothing on his plate but a football. “You can look upon street art as a voice and an expression. Within the genre there are many groups protesting and other celebrating,” Mancon explains.

“There are so many particularly Brazilian references from protest art to folk arts such as woodcuts and carnival, to psychedelia, stencil art and poster art and much more.”
In a way, east London is the perfect location for this project to be received. It too has recently seen a major sporting event - the Olympics - along with accompanying local issues.

Importantly, it is also an area renowned for its street art. “What makes the street art in East London so interesting is partly the International flavour," Manco points out.

"Within walking distance of Rich Mix you can see work by Swoon [USA], Reka [Australia] and Roa [Belgium], to name a few."

But even while these cultural gems are travelling from Brazil to England, we probably shouldn’t expect another, the World Cup, to be coming home.

  • Street Art Brazil is at Rich Mix, London until August 28 2014.

Pics: Daniel Melim and SHN.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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