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A worker in orange work suit stands infront of a grey painted wall next to a mural in sao paulo, brazil

Largest South America Graffiti Wall Erased

The beauty of Brazil has never stopped seducing the world into submission. From those white sandy beaches to Pico da Neblina, the country boast both of aesthetics, and football talent that till today captures millions of fans.

Among the charms that Brazil offers, is a beautiful metropolitan, claiming the position of the largest city in South America. This state is rich in culture and free expression. São Paulo, is not be underestimated as it supports 12.04 million people as of 2016.

The culture of the city can be illustrated in the art that paints the city. Along the 23 de Maio highway, your eyes feast on art like no other. The street mural displays the work of graffiti artists over 5000 square meters. It all started with Rui Amaral and 200 artists joining in creating this beautiful piece of artwork.

It’s a tale of love and danger. Amaral started his love affair with putting his artwork out there. What better audience than a highway? Millions of eyes who have nothing else but to look as they wait to get to their destinations. He used this opportunity to protest the injustices he saw were afflicting the society, and in the mean while dancing with the police.

It definitely had an impact on how the society could express itself. It became such a cultural phenomenon, foreigners flooded to the country to see the street mural. It became engraved in the urban history, culture and not to forget tourism in São Paulo. The mural made its debut in 2015, the office of the mayor sang its praises.

The fall

They say changing winds abides no greeting, recently there have been drastic changes at 23 de Maio. In January, sanitation workers got busy exacting orders from the new sitting city mayor, Joaoa Doria. The directive to the sanitation workers, was to paint over the beloved mural. The city woke up to the horror that their mural was no longer going to be part of them.

Wielding a spraying device himself, the mayor took it upon himself to take part in the destruction. The mayor and his sparkling millions has been making a few changes. He plans to enforce a restoration of the city to its original state. Pretty but without all the exciting stuff.

His campaign aims to paint the city one color, replacing broken street essentials like trash cans. The clean-up also includes covering up graffiti on city walls, planting trees, and collecting garbage. Although a noble idea by the millionaire business man, the act put to trial the value of art and if protection of art was a worthy cause.

As situations go, the campaign has collected loyal supporters. Praising the work of the Doria administration who are keen in keeping the city clean and devoid of mixed messages. Fines have been increased to discourage anyone from engaging in graffiti activities in any part of the city.

before and after picture of the mural cover up

There are others who view things differently though. The mayor’s critics suggest that this is all a plan to sell São Paulo off to investors. They claim that the mayor aims to privatize public land, and probably put up city parks for concessions. This sent the twitter world into an angry rant.

Despite this, a trend is also arising in other cities like lima inspired by the ‘Pretty City’ trend. Cities like Lima and New York have waged a war against graffiti on public property. The mayor however retorts that he is pro art. To add on, the office of the mayor put out a statement that some of the art was old and that it gave the city a dilapidated look.

To compensate for this injustice, the mayor has offered to support a museum of street art. The limits are that the murals to be put up, have to be approved by a committee. Also artists who have private funding are to be handpicked by an independent committee. This puts a limit in the freedom of expression, where artists are forced to box down creativity.

The city clean-up also puts the administration at a bad position as to where the homeless shall be taken. The homeless have been suffering since the city suffered fires between the 70s -80s leaving a large population stranded.

There has been action to protect the remains of the historic mural. The city department dealing in historic preservation, got a judge to cease the repaint of the city mural. This of course put a stick in Doria’s ‘pretty City’ mechanisms. There are rumors however, of the city setting up legalized areas where graffiti can be expressed freely.

It’s a case of compromise for the society. They get to live in a better environment, and still have access to their beloved graffiti murals, at legal, designated areas.

eduardo kobra's massive olympic mural

Brazilian Mural Artist Creates World’s Biggest Mural by One Person

While the Rio Olympic games came with a large amount of controversy, both during the events themselves and in the planning stages, one thing is certain: it gave a much-needed boost to the vibrant public art culture in the country. Brazil has long had a proud and beautiful public art culture, from the beautiful murals throughout Sao Paulo to the many paintings that have since emerged in Rio during and before the Olympics.

But one mural in particular has stood out amongst the others and for one very good reason: it’s literally the largest. The mural, created entirely by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra, spans over 3,000 square meters of wall space on the “Olympic Boulevard,” a three-mile strip that celebrates the many great things for which the Olympics stand for, such as inclusivity, healthy competition, and the many cultures and ethnicities that make the Olympics such an important event.

The mural itself is called “etnias” (“ethnicities” in Portuguese) and represents the many different kinds of people who make up the Oympic athletes. Based on the five Olympic rings, the mural illustrates five different faces from five different continents. The piece is also drawing from a distinctly Brazilian flavour of mural, with bright colours that are typical of street art and murals found throughout the country.

Overall, the painting took Kobra hundreds of hours to complete. It also required a number of supplies, including 100 gallons of white paint, 1,500 litres of coloured paint, and at least 3,500 cans of spray paint. Kobra worked for over 12 hours a day for weeks to ensure the piece was completed in time for the Olympic Games.

Kobra said he was ecstatic about the piece and the end result. “I was really happy I got to display my work here in Rio de Janeiro,” Kobra said in an interview with the Rio’s official website. “This was something I have wanted to do for a long time. We’re living through a very confusing time with a lot of conflict. I wanted to show that everyone is united, we are all connected.”

Besides being a celebration of the Olympic spirit and the inclusivity that the Games try to represent, the piece also celebrates the wonderful diversity found within Brazil’s own public art scene. Brazil has long encouraged street art throughout its cities and the country holds many different records for murals, public art, and other street art-related achievements. Kobra is also one of hundreds of artists who have become internationally famous for their street art, and his piece adds to the large catalogue of art that continues to influence people around the world. While the Rio games weren’t without incident, it is pieces like Kobra’s that celebrate the Olympic spirit and can come to symbolize what the Games can represent.

animated mural art aerial photograph

INSA and a Small Army of Painters Made the World’s Biggest GIF

Even with street art, we often think of painting as capturing some sort of singular moment or idea. It stands still. It can reference something coming or look backwards to something that happened, it can be erased or added to, but it always stays still. This, along with many, many other assumptions, is something INSA thinks the world can do differently.

The artist, who prefers to keep his identity secret, believes that the internet has changed art, and that this gives artists an incredible opportunity to change the way traditional notions of painting are expressed. For INSA, it started with the GIF (check out Gif-iti), those almost slideshow type pictures we see online. They’ve been used for everything from silly animations to seemingly sustaining Buzzfeed, but they all rely on a variety of still images that are given the illusion of movement. Y’know, like animation.

INSA saw this idea and decided to apply the idea of the gif to street art, starting with creating gifs from his own paintings. Usually, he would paint a wall, take a picture, paint over the wall and paint another picture, and do this until he had enough pictures to create a gif. From there, he uploads it online for people to see. These all show off INSA’s obvious talents and breadth of style, but he wanted to do something bigger. Much, much bigger. Like, seen from space bigger.

So INSA headed down to one of the world’s best street art countries, Brazil, to make a gif that you can see from space. With detailed ideas about what he wanted, he employed a small army to paint a large, open concrete pad with four different images, one a day for when a satellite came over and took a picture. The result is the world’s first gif seen from a satellite.

The experiment resulted in 576 man hours and 57,515 square miles of painted surface, all in just four days, to create his biggest art project yet. The gif itself is of pink and yellow hearts, inverting in colour each day and moving slightly over to create the movement. It’s perfect for the setting: taking in Brazil’s love of bold colour schemes while sending a message of love out to the world, and the heavens.

True to his love of anonymity, INSA’s face and eyes are blocked from the camera, and he spends the video giving credit to those people that put in the long hours and hard work to make his vision possible. And once it’s out on the internet, he’s happy to continue to take a back seat. “I think the possibility of interpretation is limited when people think of the singular creator.” Like so much on the internet today, INSA prefers to leave the real discussions to the comments section.

hass hahn favela painting

Favela Painting

Despite being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Brazil still struggles with poverty. Many of the biggest cities in the country are surrounded and embedded with favelas, another word for slums, that are home to millions of people. These favelas suffer from problems all too familiar for poor neighbourhoods: violence, lack of access to services, forced migration, and more, but they are also home to blossoming cultural movements, distinct artistic qualities, and hope. People now travel to Brazil to explore everything the country has to offer, including the favelas, and Dutch artists were just two of these people. The difference is these artists stuck around to help the community through involvement.

Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, collectively known as Haas&Hahn, visited Brazil in 2005 to shoot a movie about favela hip-hop culture. Haas&Hahn were fascinated by the culture, art, and especially the people themselves, so they decided to give back to the communities that hosted their filming in a unique way: mural art. A great project for a section of Brazilian culture people seem intent on covering up.

The favelas have come under increased skepticism and persecution over the past decade, especially as Brazil geared up to host the FIFA World Cup this year. Programs to cover up, quite literally, the slums for a good face on the international stage have been in place since 2009. Originally designed to curb the growth, especially since favelas have been growing at a rate larger than the cities to which they are attached, many detractors of the walls also noted they did a pretty good job of blocking them from view. Many pointed to the upcoming soccer tournament, but others speculate that favelas also lower housing prices. In a country with severe economic disparity, the solution for some of the elite is to simply not address the problem. Unfortunately, the problem accounts for over 6% of Brazil’s population, is growing steadily, and getting international attention. For a part of Brazilian culture that is literally being covered up, mural art gives some colour and attention to these famously eclectic districts and the people that live there.

Before travelling to Brazil, Haas&Hahn had a history of big projects, painting entire buildings with murals that fit with the local culture and brought some flavour to neighbourhoods. But this was mostly in their native Netherlands and Europe. Brazil was a little bit different.

As much as favelas have a blossoming culture, they also have very real problems. Drug lords can run entire favelas, where they use the youth as armed muscle they affectionately call “soldados.” Getting into a favela can be dangerous and difficult. Doing something other than looking can cost you your life without the right permissions. So Haas&Hahn had to win over the people and the resident drug lords in their fight, which may be in part why only 3 such projects happened.

But permission was and is the name of the game with Haas&Hahn. Each project required permission from the residents of the favela and the people whose homes they would be painting. Designs were kept loose so residents could have an input in the colours and anyone who didn’t want to participate had their wishes respected.

Since 2007, Haas&Hahn have done a total of three favela painting projects in Rio de Janeiro, each with their own flavour and direction.

boy kite mural in favela

The first, “Boy with Kite,” is a smaller and more conventional mural. The mural is essentially its namesake, but the kite itself is nonexistent. Instead, a boy with a string looks out past the blue sky of the mural and towards the rest of the city, drawing the eye way from the mural and towards the favela itself. Rather than cover it up or try and distract from the slum, “Boy with Kite” encourages the viewer to see the surroundings.

mural on hill of a favela Vila Cruzeiro

The second project is substantially more ambitious, tackling a series of stairs that lead up the hill of a favela Vila Cruzeiro, one of Brazil’s most dangerous and most populated slums, with an estimated population of between 40 000 and 70 000 inhabitants. Rio is a particularly hilly area of the world and the Vila Cruzeiro has a network of steps that lead all over its maze of streets, alleys, and walkways. For their second project, Haas&Hahn recruited local youth to turn one of these sets of stairs, and accompanying drainage pipes, into a cascading river of koi fish. Called “Rio Cruzeiro,” the project is substantially larger than “Boy with Kite” and incorporates the often fluid feel of a favela, which is often built without proper zoning or building codes, giving them a haphazard feel.

praca cantao mural project

The most Haas&Hahn favela painting project Haas&Hahn was “Praca Cantao,” a full-scale mural project that painted the houses of an entire square. Painted with vibrant colours often associated with the favelas, the Praca Cantao square boats a vibrancy seen in the city’s energy and citizens, but not often in their actual homes.

But the key part of the favela paintings is possible not even the art itself, but the community involvement. The artists worked with local youth to give them hands-on painting skills and experience, something many have put on their resume to find employment away from their drug-controlled neighbourhoods. Rather than simply do something they perceive as nice for a group of people, Haas&Hahn got involved, worked together with the people, and left them with something to look at but also some skills to move forward.

Since Brazil, Haas&Hahn moved to slums a little closer to home, Philadelphia, where the poverty level is 167% above the national average. There, the murals have gotten even bigger stretching over 50 storefronts on two blocks. Organized with MuralArts, a program we’ve talked about before, Haas&Hahn’s murals continue to give a city once famous for smokestacks and steel production a new look. Other projects have also popped up in New York, Miami, and the Shenzhen Biennale in China. As for what’s next, Haas&Hahn raised over $100,000 to realize their dream project, painting an entire favela, on Kickstarter last year. They are currently scouting locations, deciding to start after the World Cup ended.