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Calma aka Stephan Doitschinoff

Calma is at once embracing and rebuking Brazilian cultural traditions with his unique and subversive brand of street art.

Calma creates street art which is the antithesis of anything obvious and urban. His murals and canvases are covered with graphic images that are an unusual fusion of Brazilian folk art, religious and gothic imagery and a subtle touch of Sao Paolo’s graffiti heritage. As his first monograph published by Die Gestalten Verlag shows, Calma is a dark original.

Dazed Digital: How does Brazilian folk art and engravings influence what you do?
Stephan Doitschinoff: I grew up in Sao Paulo and as a child I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in Bananal, a small village in the Paraiba Valey country side near Rio de Janeiro. Even though most of my family were working class, my grandfather is an educated man and had a nice collection of woodcut prints and a few originals by names like Anita Malfati, Caribé and Volpi. I find really interesting to look at Brazilian folk art today and learn how Christian art was brought with the Portoguese and Spanish conquers in the 16th and 17th centuries and ended up getting so influenced by Afro and Native Brazilian culture. Today you can see the syncretism present in folklore and religion. You will find churches that have altars with Christian saints mixed with Afro and Native Brazilian deities such as Preto Velho, Iemanja and Boi Bumba.

DD: What do you paint with?
SD: I use acrylics when I’m painting canvasses but when it comes to paint murals I use anything, mainly cheap house paint but also any latex, gesso, acrylics, spray, whatever I have. In Lençóis the only paint they used to sell at the local shop was so bad and watery that you would need 2 coats of black to cover other colours. Sometimes you have to improvise. I have used big chunks of bbq charcoal to sketch the murals.

DD: You've been living and working in Bahia. What do you find interesting about the place?
SD: I have been living there for more than 2 years but I have been travelling the countryside of Bahia for almost a decade. Most of these secluded places are so hard to get to that the local culture - their traditions and festivities - are still not suffocated by the internationalized culture and globalization. It is still possible to find craftsman working the way they learned from their grandparents. Afro-Brazilian culture there is so rich. In the slavery times they use to captured whole tribes from Africa and bring them to work in plantations or diamond mines, so there are quite a few African traditions that you wont find in Africa anymore but you do find it in small villages out in Bahia.

DD: What do you like about making street and outdoor work?
SD: Getting people to interact with the work. I have had some strong response in small cities especially. I painted this mural in Alto da Estrela called ‘Daniel’s Prophecy’, that depicts the image on the angel of death condemning the false churches of Satan. It happens that in the same street there was an Evangelical church. A couple weeks after I finished painting I passed through that same street and noticed the mural was all dilapidated and saw chunks of the wall and rocks on the floor. A neighbour described me how kids would come out the church and with bibles and stones in hand and would stone the mural while spitting and yelling things like “For the Blood of Christ” or “Out of my way Behemoth from Hell”. It has happened with a couple more of my murals in the same area.

DD: What draws you to religious imagery?
SD: I guess I was always close to it. My grandmother was a practicing spiritualist.
My dad was a Minister in an Evangelical Church any my mother worked there as well. I basically grew up in the church. I personally see the church as an archaic institution that always aimed to control the masses. I think it is an appropriate symbol for the corrupt modern institutions - like the big corporations, media chanels and governments.

Calma: The Art of Stephan Doitschinoff with text by Tristan Manco and Carlo McCormick is out now