in Language & Culture

Street Art: Not Just a Scrawl

As a follow-up to last week’s post about the graffiti culture in China, today we will explore São Paulo where street art is flourishing and adorning every conceivable concrete. The tagging culture in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, has been thriving since the mid 1980s and has turned the city into a colorful display of expressions and art.

Street Art

The bright colors grab the attention of the city’s visitors—many travel agencies have specialized tours dedicated to the city’s street art—but for many of the city’s dwellers, the graffiti drawings are common sight and sometimes even an eyesore. The drawings are often filled with political and social message; it exists in all corners of the city from the slums or favelas to upper class neighborhoods.

According to Mirs Monstrengo, a Brazilian graffiti artist, street art has existed in Brazil even before graffiti became popular. The Brazilians have their own unique form of “wall writing” called pichacão, which began in the 1940s as political statements written in tar. Pichacão artists often choose to tag the tallest, most dangerous and most noteworthy locations in order to get their message across to the masses.

Today, the notion of pichacão has become so ingrained in the Brazilian culture that it makes the battle against what the city’s authorities call “visual pollution” seem like a losing battle. For years, practitioners have been using this type of “art” to express their dissatisfaction over the country’s deep-rooted problems such as government corruption and income inequality.

For them, there’s been no better time than 2014 to showcase their “writings,” when all eyes were on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, in their own backyard. In the run-up to the biggest sporting event in the world, Brazil’s street artists brought out their spray cans and covered the walls in São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro with pictures filled with rage and criticism.  Many of these murals are bold in scale, accusing the football’s governing body FIFA of exploiting Brazil and protesting the exuberant spending on the tournament in the face of Brazil’s struggling economy.

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But come “the greatest show on Earth,” and all the attention reverted back to the field; for a whole month, it seemed like the only thing that mattered was winning the gold trophy and, sure enough, the graffiti daubs outside the stadium were back on the sideline.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup has long been over but the street art continues to be a visual reminder of the country’s deep social conflict. Many grafiteiros believe that they have not wielded their spray cans in vain. They still hold out hope that their bold, colorful—albeit silent—messages could turn into powerful instruments for raising social awareness, evoking feeling and calling people to action.

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