Public Art in Rio’s Favelas

Welcome to the community of Santa Marta, in the heart of the densley populated hills of Rio de Janeiro.

Santa Marta's new look

Artistic duo Haas&Hahn set out on a mission to paint the houses of this community, and they set out to do it with the involvement of community members who received training and pay for their assistance. The project spanned the course of a month, and in the end, brightened over 34 houses and 7,000 square meters of the favela. The team intends to return to Rio to continue, with the ultimate goal of painting the entirety of this neighborhood.

Santa Marta before Favela Painting

Haas&Hahn’s Favela Painting project is not the first of its kind; last year, French artist JR caught the worldwide attention with his Faces of the Favelas work in Rio. For JR, the installation of posters featuring giant black and white eyes and faces of inhabitants began as his response to three controversial deaths involving local drug gangs and military police. The eyes were striking, and large enough to be seen from beneath the hillside slums, creating the appearance of a favela community as a coherent being, looking down on the bustle of Rio and generating awareness of their plight.

JR's Faces of the Favelas

Last summer, JR was asked to install his posters on landmarks throughout Rio, bringing favela residents into the spotlight in a whole new way. I highly recommend this BBC audio slideshow on the project – the images are stunning, and the narrative enlightening.

Santa Theresa street art

Jack and I were in Brazil in 2008 and, being the street art supporters that we are, were excited to find such prevalent, elaborate graffiti throughout both Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The mural above was discovered on a visit to the community of Santa Theresa in Rio in search of feijoada. The Jockey Club wall in Rio is infamous for its miles of layered murals, and São Paulo is of course home to the world-reknowned duo Os Gemeos.

Os Gemeos mural

I’m excited to see the expansion of public art projects such as these in a city as socially stratified as Rio de Janeiro. The strength of street art, after all, is its ability to bring beauty to a dull urban landscape, and attract attention to that which might otherwise continue unnoticed in our daily bustle. The plight of the favelas of Rio certainly fit these criteria.

What do you think? Service through public art, or patronization?

image credits: 1,2 – Favela Painting; 3 – Valentine Makhouleen; 4 – Union Jack Creative; 5 – Sentimentos Urbanos

Additional thanks to Marisa for sharing the related T Magazine piece.

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