Brazil today is internationally renowned for its grafitti and street art scene, intensified recently by the 2014 FIFA World Cup. The whole country embraces their street art scene more than many other countries, with some municipalities passing laws to encourage street art. The city of São Paulo, for example, has banned public advertising like billboards, freeing up more space for street artists to create and display their talents.
Perhaps one of the reasons São Paulo has laws to encourage street art is because they are the birthplace of one, or rightly two, of Brazil’s most important and influential street artists. Born Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo, these identical twins are better known as Os Gêmeos, the Portuguese word for twins. But even those who don’t know their name would know their work in Brazil, it has come to dominate and guide the country’s street art aesthetics.
The twins were born in 1974 and grew up just as hip-hop began its swift movement through Central and South America. The familiar beats and youthful energy captured the attention of Brazil’s youth, including Otavio and Gustavo. They started out as breakdancers, but soon graffiti became their favourite activity.
At the time, the New York street art scene was the most prevalent and famous in the world and the twins began tagging and reproducing the style that could be seen all over NYC. They weren’t interested in their own style at the time and, much like the early adoption of any artistic practice, reproduction was vastly more interesting than creating something entirely new. Os Gêmeos, as we all know now, quickly became disinterested in mere reproduction, and a definitive style that incorporated Brazilian aesthetic, folklore, and culture began showing up in their work.
A chance encounter with Barry McGee, then known as Twist, gave the twins their first direct contact with an American graffiti artist. McGee was in Brazil for several months for school and provided local artists with examples of the New York scene as it was happening. McGee also put Os Gêmeos in contact with other artists and street art professionals, giving them a way to advertise themselves outside Brazil.
Os Gêmeos began experimenting with their style and giving their work a distinctive Brazilian flavour, including differing colour palettes, subjects, and approaches from their New York influences. A trademark for their work now, the yellow skin of many of their characters actually comes from dreams they have both had that feature people with yellow skin. They started making overt political statements as well, focused on local issues of poverty and infrastructure in their homeland.
Nowadays, Os Gêmeos’ work can be seen all over the world, from Europe to North America to all over their native land. Special commissions include art festivals around the world and, surprisingly, local transit systems in Brazil, who are famously against street art on their trains. Mural painting and graffiti have become part of Brazil’s cultural makeup, individual expressions that together help a local and national identity, and two artists working under one name are a large part of this continuing mode of expression and internationally renowned scene. Their name is Os Gêmeos.