The film about the graff kids who tagged Rio’s iconic statue

Breno Moreira follows the life of three taggers who sprayed WHEN THE CATS LEAVE, THE RATS COME OUT TO PARTY on Christ The Redeemer

April 14th, 2010. It had been six months since Rio had won the bid to host the Olympics and an usually cold night for the city. It was colder, and windier, near the top. Christ The Redeemer, the city’s most iconic landmark, informally referred to as its ‘protector’, was covered in scaffolding for maintenance. At some point during the night, three figures had climbed to the top. They were gone as fast as they had appeared. The next morning, the 30-metre tall statue’s face and arms were tagged all over. Most of it was illegible – drawings and glyphs meant for a very specific audience – but one thing in particular stood out, scrawled in all caps, on the statue’s neck: “WHEN THE CATS LEAVE, THE RATS COME OUT TO PARTY.”

A week before, the city had endured its worst rainfall in 44 years. There had been 96 deaths, while countless others were injured and in grave danger. “I saw the tragedy on TV, and people waiting in line at the public hospitals and I got angry,” says OriAIDS, one of the taggers. “I had a lot on my mind – people were going missing left and right, and the state, and the city were doing nothing. I had tagged public buildings the week before, asking for more security in the public schools, in the hospitals but I didn’t feel like my voice was being heard. I came up with the sentence the night before. I called two of my friends for the job, and they were game.” 

“We scream and shout, and no one hears us. I tag so they don’t erase my voice” –

The day after the trio tagged the Christ statue, the then mayor of the city of Rio, Eduardo Paes, offered a R$15,000 reward on their heads. Legend has it that he was flying over the city in his private helicopter with international Olympic investors, when he caught sight of the tagging. They hid out in the local church for a few days, but fearing for the safety of their families, they turned themselves in, and went on national television, apologizing for their deeds, vowing to never tag again, and cleaning up the tags of their rivals from public works. Paes, no longer in public office, is being investigated for a several corruption schemes related to the Olympics. The trio still tag to this day.

XARPI, the short film by Breno Moreira, is an electric snapshot of tagging culture in the city of Rio de Janeiro, one that extends far beyond the scenic beaches, favelas, beautiful bodies, and, inevitably, the notorious Christ statue. It features front and centre, the three taggers responsible for the Christ tag: OriAIDS, Lub, and Sagi, in a loosely fictionalized and heavily stylized, night of tagging.

“Tagging to me means freedom, rebellion. There’s this visual aggression, this dissatisfaction in the way of the drawings, where they are made…I am drawn to that” – Sagi

“I wanted to make XARPI because while tagging culture is a very underground thing, it’s hidden in plain sight,” says Breno Moreira. “Rio de Janeiro is a city that is tagged all over and most people just walk past it and dismiss it as scribbling, random denigration of property, etc. But if you know who’s who, what they stand for, what they’re trying to do…it’s all coded messages. It’s all meaningful. And it’s everywhere. The voiceover, written by Sagi, has this sentiment that I think encapsulates tagging culture really well: namely tagging is a consequence of other social problems.”