Brazil: Street Art

Woman in front of mural

In 2009, Brazil legalized street art – all the artist needs is permission from the property owner. Each artist has their own language, but street art in Rio appears to be particularly influenced by its seaside surroundings, as opposed to street art in São Paulo, which draws more inspiration from its urban cityscape. Street art is called “grafite” (pronounced grah-fee-tchee) in Rio – what we call graffiti in terms of tagging and lettering buildings in the US is referred to as “pichação” (pronounced pee-shah-sow). Some artists include elements of both in their work. 

With a painful history of slave trading and continued oppression and inequality, the art in the area reflects its residents through a collective narrative. Each piece is life as told by the artist – what is their story? What have they experienced? What emotions do they feel?  

When Rio hosted the Summer Olympics in 2016, the city added street murals throughout its newly revitalized old port area. Artists say that many times, painting in underprivileged areas can be more welcoming than doing so in a richer neighborhood. Residents might offer you food or beverages as a way of saying thank you for sharing your art with their community. This relationship created a gateway for many artists to share their work on a smaller scale and realize the impact that art had on their community – which eventually could lead them to reaching the rest of the world. 

“Rio has a lot of street art projects going on, a lot of talented artists, and a lot to say,” says Nina Gani. In 2014, she founded Rio Street Art Tours, the first company to take travelers on tours of Rio’s street art. If you want to tour the favelas (shanty towns) in the area to see street art, it’s recommended that you utilize a service like this with someone who is familiar with the area. Otherwise, it’s recommended that you tour the works of one larger location within the city at a time – like the Olympic port area, the Jardim Botánico (the botanical garden), or Santa Teresa, one of Rio’s oldest residential neighborhoods. Some examples of Rio’s street artists are Eduardo Kobra, Bruno Big, Wark Rocinha, and Marcelo Jou. 

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