Favela art

The graffiti artists of Art Rua are taking street art to one of Rio’s poorest slums

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The exterior of Art Rua Caroline Althaller

If you asked an average Rio resident what the main art event was in town last weekend, most cariocas will probably point at the lofty exhibition spaces of Art Rio. Now in on its third outing, the fair has gained ever-increasing importance in the art world – but at a time when riots rage in districts like Ipanema and hundreds of thousands protest for equal, it’s safe to say the fair doesn’t represent the reality of the streets.

Created in 2011 by the Institute R.U.A, Art Rua runs parallel to the feted Art Rio and has very different goals. While buyers at Rio complain about the import prices for their John Chamberlain sculpture, the artists on show at Rua are Brazilian and international street artists working and exhibiting panels of graffiti. Housed in two restored warehouses in Rio’s oldest favela, the initiative aims to revitalize Gamboa, a struggling industrial area.

In São Paulo, some of the city’s poor youth chooses street art as a form of expression against racism and prejudice, but artists in Rio come from a rich mix of backgrounds

“Graffiti provides a natural contact with everyone as it’s done on the streets,” artist Leo Uzai explains. “Painting inside the favela goes beyond that, because people are so warm and more open and the artist participates in the daily lives of the people who live there. Even for a short moment, you feel inserted into that system of life, which is totally different from people who live in other places.”

Pioneers of Rio graffiti scene like Ment, BR, TOZ, emerging talents such as Gais Ama and Lelo, important names from São Paulo art scene as FLIP, Highraff and Sliks have all created site specific pieces for the event. 

In São Paulo, some of the city’s poor youth chooses street art as a form of expression against racism and prejudice, but artists in Rio come from a rich mix of backgrounds: everyone from young upstarts to artists from wealthy families paint the walls of neighbourhoods rich and poor. 

Work by Joana Cesar
Panel by Joana César Caroline Althaller

But what makes the combination of Art Rio and Art Rua so great: street artists take their art into galleries at the former, helping the typical Art Rio visitor understand the importance of street work, as well as starting discussions about how art can provoke different kinds of audiences.

Joana César is a good example of this intersection - her work could be seen in the contemporary art gallery Athena Contemporânea as well as at Art Rua and in the high columns of Elevado da Perimetal, in front of Art Rio’s venue.

“The big difference between the panel still in construction at Art Rua and the work on the streets is the type of support,” she says. “The street is a support, the wall is a different one, the screen is another. And the roots of each work infiltrates the particular characteristics of the other.” 

There’s no doubt that most of the crowd at Art Rua feels more comfortable admiring these works from the street rather than the pieces at Art Rio. After all, cariocas are used to interacting with open spaces – just look at the social scene of the Rio beach. 

Of course, what Rio dwellers have to keep in mind is that we have to find means of integrating the city population in new ways, and not to forget these areas when there are no projects running in these spaces.

The organisers and artists of Art Rua, meanwhile, hope that art can be part of the process of bringing hope: hope that Rio will be ready to host the Fifa World Cup next year, and hope that the city is changing for the better.

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