Brazilian Street Art

I used to think graffiti was vandalism. I hated walking through my hometown and spotting garish scrawls defacing the sides of familiar buildings and monuments. I felt it was an insult to the city and ugly to have to see. Then I gradually began to change my mind as I met graffiti artists and was exposed to famous street artists like the infamous Banksy – that household name these days. I travelled a bit and I began to appreciate the stenciling and politically charged inscriptions and murals around Europe.
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Street Art Sao PauloThen I even started to become ambivalent towards tagging, that practice of scrawling one’s name in a particular and largely illegible style everywhere and anywhere. I still prefer street art to tagging but I can appreciate tagging done well. And I’ve heard some people link the practice of graffiti to the concept of freedom in one’s city and as a form of rebellion which I can’t really argue against. I’m all for all kinds of artistic expression, being largely incapable of expressing myself in any artistic form besides the occasional blog post.
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Street Art Santa Teresa Rio de JaneiroRio de Janeiro has become a sort-of mecca for graffiti artists in Latin America. The turbulent vibrant nature of the city lends itself towards random spurts of artistic expression. The street art in Rio is simply awesome. From the intricately painted street stairs of Escadería Selaron to the layered murals, tags, and stencils in the Santa Teresa and Laranjeiras neighborhoods.
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Since graffiti first appeared on the streets of the city following the graffiti boom in New York in the 1970s bored kids, punks, art students and professional artists have been marking the walls with just their name or also their thoughts on the military dictatorship, racism, social inequality, and the rivalry between Fluminense and Botafogo football clubs. Nothing better then venting your own existential angst on the side wall of your local corner shop, makes running out to buy a carton of juice in the morning that little bit more interesting.
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Street Art Rio de JaneiroSerious political messages and personal cries do crop up among the random scrawled words and haphazard street names. Sometimes the images are beautiful and funny and thought-provoking all at the same time. That’s the best street art. The piece you spot out of the corner of your eye under the window sill of the shoe shop, making you stop and grin to yourself in the street like a bit of a loon while exasperated people step around you on their way to work.
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Street Art Santa Teresa Rio de JaneiroBut Rio de Janeiro is also admirable in its active encouragement of street art. The city officially passed the decriminalization of street art in March 2009 with the Law 706/07. This amendment to a federal law allows for street art to be practised openly with the consent of the buildings owners. The majority of street art still continues without the permission of building owners of course. Who wants to remove that necessary spirit of rebellion. But there is also the opportunity to commission street art and for street artists to ask permission before carrying out their work.
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Street Art Favela Rio de JaneiroThe concept of building a community through street art has also been thrown out there by the inspired officials in Rio de Janeiro’s municipal buildings. The crumbling walls of the Rio de Janeiro Jockey Club across from the Botanical Gardens have been commissioned by the local government to be worked on by a collaboration of local street artists with the express request for no ‘paint-overs’. That may be a hard condition to hold on to as the years pass and younger kids eye up the long expanse of the old walls with envy but the idea is ingenious.
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If you are passing by the Botanical Gardens stop for a look at these walls. The art there is every bit as interesting as the tropical flowers and plants inside, and far more impermanent. If you want to delve deeper into the Brazilian graffiti scene just keep your eyes peeled as you walk around the city. The art is everwhere. And should you wish there is a host of information out there on the internet and in the bookshops to inform yourself with, this is only the very tiniest tip of the iceberg when it comes to the depth and scale of street art and graffiti in Brazil.
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