The Legalization of Street Art in Rio de Janeiro
In March 2009, the Brazilian government passed law 706/07 which decriminalizes street art. In an amendment to a federal law that punishes the defacing of urban buildings or monuments, street art was made legal if done with the consent of the owners. As progressive of a policy as this may sound, the legislation is actually a reflection of the evolving landscape in Brazilian street art, an emerging and divergent movement in the global street art landscape. In Brazil, there is a distinction made between tagging, known as pichação, and grafite, a street art style distinctive to Brazil.
The term pichação is derived from the Portuguese word piche or tar, which the early taggers would steal from construction sites and use as their creative medium. Rio de Janeiro has been particularly progressive in its policy towards street art, with its 1999 “Não pixe, grafite” (Don’t Tag, Graffiti) project that brought together 35 graffiti artists to showcase diversity in local styles. But more unique to street art in Rio de Janeiro is the evolution of a permission hierarchy, blurring the line between formal and informal, and obfuscating the line between illegal and legal. Law 706/07 merely reinforced these informal patterns of street art and legitimized an already flourishing form of artistic expression.
According to Rio de Janeiro artist Quito, whom I met at Columbia University’s Studio X in Rio, street art in the city is really an “agreement between the population and the city.” Street art began to flourish in Rio over the past ten years and Law 706/07 “came after the [development of] the art.” Quito believes that street art in Rio is currently having its “moment” with Rio artists going abroad to make their mark on foreign cities, while graffiti artists from all around the world are coming to the city to check out what’s been happening. When we spoke, Quito reinforced the differentiation between tagging and street art, echoing the words of Rio street artist Smael Vagner, a member of the Naà§à£o Crew: “The tagger wants to put his name on the wall, to be famous, and is a vandalist, but the [street] artist is interested in aesthetics and community.”
Another well-known project is the colorful facades of the Santa Marta favela, an initiative by artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, who worked up with the Let’s Colour Project (an initiative of the Delux paint company). Known as Tudo de cor para você, the project aimed to “inspire people through the preservation and injection of color that was given to the community’s houses.” According to Quito, this project was also successful due to favela residents’ preconceptions of their homes. They are interior focused, with any upgrades done in the areas where they will be living. As a result, it was not difficult to motivate an entire neighborhood to join forces into one unified work of art, covering over 7000 square meters of faà§ade. The project involved fifty members of the neighborhood and was painted using 2,000 liters of donated paint.
On a more permanent basis, Projeto Queto is a community organization founded by Francisco da Silva, the founder and leader of the graffiti team, Nação Crew. With support from the non-profit organization Caramundo and funding in part from the Dutch Governmental Institute NCDO Building Bridges and Plan Nederland, a community center was set up in Sampaoi, the favela in Rio’s north zone where da Silva grew up. Anouk Piket of Caramundo speaks of the inspirational potential of graffiti in the favelas, along with its ability to establish discipline and structure: “We hope to inspire the youth to learn more and read more: to discover what life has to offer outside their day-to-day existence”¦The participants not only learn about graffiti techniques, but come into contact with art, culture, and language. Letters are important in graffiti, which means that reading and writing are also addressed in the workshops.”
In Rio de Janeiro, the street art is ubiquitous. It exists in all corners of the city from the favela to upper class neighborhoods, from residential to institutional. It is bold in scale and aesthetics, and is anything but graffiti. The integration between street art and the urban fabric in all types of areas in Rio-residential, institutional, infrastructural, touristic-and across all socioeconomic neighborhoods is clear when one walks the streets. This article explores the hierarchy of permission between building owner and artist, how community is being developed in Rio through street art by artists, the city and non-profits, and how the urban fabric of Rio has contributed to the flourishing street art scene.
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