Beyond its inherent associations with youthful disobedience and vandalism, Brazilian graffiti captures a city’s culture and history, its feelings on political or social conditions, as well as a little frivolity and playfulness. A distinction needs to be made therefore between grafite, a street art style focused on aesthetics, and pichação, or tagging, in which early taggers would steal tar or piche from construction sites to use as their writing medium. According to street artist Binho, “Brazilian graffiti is an art that educates young people,” and therefore should not be considered a form of vandalism. So whether be it by walking down Rio de Janeiro’s crowded and chaotic avenues, or strolling through its quieter streets, one cannot help but encounter a myriad of creative expressions that appear in the form of street art.
New York City was the birthplace of graffiti in the 1970s, and the form has since spread like wildfire across the globe, having been adapted and molded to fit different environments and contexts. In March 2009, the Brazilian government passed law 706/07 decriminalizing street art on private property if done with the owner’s consent, on property without historically recognition, on institutional or construction walls, and in public spaces. Though the works are compromised by the city’s urban cleaning department, prior to this law, Rio de Janeiro had already been relatively progressive in its policies. In 1999, a project brought together thirty-five graffiti artists to showcase diversity in local styles entitled, “Não pixe, grafite,” or rather, “Don’t Tag, Graffiti.”
An informal part of the landscape design in the urban environment, its aesthetic diversity adds to Rio’s already rich natural beauty, helping to earn its title of the Marvelous City. It’s about giving colour to an otherwise bland wall, in which a deeper meaning can lie beneath a simple coat of paint. Pieces both big and small are scattered throughout the city, intended for the public’s enjoyment. A well-known example are the murals along the high security walls of the Rio de Janeiro Jockey Club, done by a multitude of different artists. Other pieces encourage public participation, drawing you in through interactive bodies of work. In the neighbourhood of Lapa, the “Liberte Seus Sonhos” mural allows people to literally release their dreams, adding to the wall with pieces of chalk.
Thus, street art can be linked to the aesthetics of joy principle. Through its seven design principles: creating oases in the city, shifting the scale to change perspective, using colour and contrast, designing serendipitous structures, making nature effortless, tempting cyclists, and embracing joyful mischief, it prompts spontaneous interactions between strangers who stop to admire the joyfully unexpected. Therefore, while art can serve as a means of provocation, dissent, representation, and simple enjoyment, street art explores these themes on a grander scale, reaching a broader public.
With Rio de Janeiro’s street art being colourfully eye-catching, how do you perceive street art in your city?
Credit: Images by Caitlin Dixon. Data linked to sources.