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Created by the Spanish collective Boa Mistura, Luz nas Vielas, light in the alleyways, has brought colour to Vila Brasilndia, and a wave of global attention. Claire Rigby reports
nce again, news of Brazils favelas whirled around the world last month, making headlines in the Washington Post and on the BBC, on sites in English, Spanish and German, and on countless blogs, Tumblrs and Pinterest boards. This time, though, in a change from tales of devastating landslides or armed police operations, it was good news. Lettered in white against vividly colourful backgrounds in alleyways deep inside Vila Brasilndia, a favela in So Paulos north-western periphery, the words Love, Pride, Beauty, Sweetness and Firmeza (firmness, stability) swept across the web in a perfect storm of beautiful, highly engaging images, urban art, international collaboration, and curiosity about favelas. The site-specific artworks were created by Boa Mistura (good mixture), a collective of five Spanish artists with backgrounds as diverse as architecture, graphic design and engineering. With artistic interventions in South Africa already under their belts, plus a portfolio of tasteful commercial work from which they earn a living, the five were invited by the Spanish embassy in Brasilia to come and create an artwork of their choice in Brazil. A fortuitous meeting in So Paulo with the young musician and cultural activist Dimas Reis led them to his home in Vila Brasilndia, and they knew they had found the place. We went straight back to the hostel where wed been staying and collected our backpacks, says Pablo Purone, speaking by telephone from Madrid. The group moved in with Reis and his family, and spent a week getting out and about and talking to residents before deciding on their approach, which uses an ingenious bit of typographical trickery (anamorphosis), so that the words are only fully legible from a certain vantage point. Enlisting the help of residents of the favelas warrenlike alleyways becos and vielas, the latter having steps the group spent the second week plotting out and then painting the works, which are scattered around the immense settlement, home to almost 300,000 people. Paved roads crisscross the hills (morros) on which the community is built, busy with shops and small businesses in parts; but its the maze of winding alleyways that thread between the roads, twisting and turning through the higgledy-piggledy blocks, that are the heart and soul of the place. Theyre where all the life goes on, says Purone. Thats where the doors to peoples houses are, where the children play, and they link the whole place together. We found it beautiful the sense of community, the links between people, and even the landscape. As a result, the words they

28 April 2012


ALLEY UP Clockwise from this page, the words Beauty, Pride, Firmness, Love and 'Sweetness light up the becos and vielas of Vila Brasilndia

April 2012 29

eventually selected came easily. They were words we heard all the time, says Purone. People greet each other using words like beleza and firmeza we really noticed it. It might seem like just a confusion of buildings around here, says Reis, but if you look at it from a certain angle, you can see beauty, pride and sweetness too that was the concept behind the work. Reis (seen below left, on the ladder) was born and raised in Vila Brasilndia after his parents arrived there in the early 1970s, one from from Bahia and one from Minas Gerais. From his family home, views of the bordering Serra da Cantareira state park add a rich layer of greenery to the relentlessly built-up surroundings. As we traverse the area with Reis, hes quick to spot new houses encroaching here and there on the dense forest; and from the top of one of the morros, we see a new settlement of precarious housing pocked with dirt tracks and muddy ditches, backed up against the trees. But wherever you look, brickwork and rough mortar is the ubiquitous face of most of the homes. Some of the houses have a cement render over the brick, but as Reis explains, the cost is prohibitive for many families. For Boa Mistura, the block colours and the optical illusion also worked as a leveller: We thought the deep colour was a nice way of democratising the surfaces flattening out the differences with one colour and one word. Since the Spanish artists left in January, the colour, rich as ever, has begun to wear down as a result of sun, rain, and people passing back and forth. There will come a time when the whole thing has disappeared, says Purone. It comes with the territory for Boa Mistura, who first met as young graffiti artists. Weve always worked in the streets were used to our art being ephemeral. The works are born, have a life and then die. Its natural. So there are no plans for the five to return to repaint the work. What they are planning, still at the discussion stage with Reis and other residents, as well as with interested architects, is to return for a new, much bigger project that transcends art to include improvements to some of the houses in the form of rendering, as well as painting. We want to make a start on improving part of one morro, says Purone, that could serve as an example for other morros and even other favelas.

It might seem like just a confusion of buildings around here. But if you look at it from a certain angle, you can see beauty, pride and sweetness too that was the concept behind the work.

A documentary about the artworks made by Boa Mistura will be shown during the Virada Sustentavel ( from 2-3 June.

30 April 2012