Politics of Paint in São Paulo by Jenny Molloy


by Jenny Molloy


Sao Paulo is not for the timid. A city where extreme poverty and remarkable wealth brush past each other daily, São Paulo’s colossal size and grey horizons can be significantly intimidating for an outsider.

As somebody totally foreign to São Paulo, the crippling poverty and severe social inequality was impossible for me to ignore. With a climate not necessarily in sync with the rest of Brazil, being without a home in this damp city is particularly arduous. Whilst private helicopters transport city workers over favelas and into the industrial centre, families, children and communities live under the shelter of highways, hanging clothes on makeshift washing lines and selling T-shirts on the pavements.

The deprivation I saw in Brazil was like nothing I had ever experienced before; for a country that markets itself on beautiful women, extravagant parties and liberal ideals, I felt as if I was being given a minuscule glance into the ‘real’ Brazil, which was far from the glamour and desirability that we often associate with this South American nation.

The poverty, despite always apparent and visible, is certainly not São Paulo’s defining feature. Not a typically ‘beautiful’ city, grey skyscrapers dominate São Paulo’s landscape and upon arrival an outsider would be forgiven for thinking that this city was somewhat drab and colourless. Flying over São Paulo, it is hard to imagine that it is home to some of the most incredible graffiti and street artists in the world. The dingy walls of office blocks are treated as canvases and walking through the city you are treated to intricate and extravagant paintings by some of Brazil’s most respected artists, such as Os Gemeos and Kobra. Graffiti however, whilst a major part of São Paulo’s aesthetic, is certainly surpassed, perhaps not in beauty but certainly in magnitude, by Pixação.

Pixação is a kind of urban inscription that is inescapable in São Paulo, where it originated. Derived from the Portuguese word ‘Pichar’ meaning ‘to cover in tar’, Pixação can be found on almost every building in the city. Scrawled over bridges, across window ledges and on precariously high walls of office blocks, Pixação is a staple of São Paulo’s aesthetic.

Originating in the 1980’s, during a period of time where Brazil was in Political chaos and just as the Hip-Hop movement’s influence was making its way from the Bronx to Brazil, Pixação was born out of a culmination of New York inspiration and total disillusionment with government and the on-going social disparities.

Much like graffiti, Pixação was a movement for the working classes and the disadvantaged who did not benefit from the gentrification and globalisation of their cities. Unlike graffiti, which is slowly becoming legalised in many parts of the world, the whole principle and meaning of Pixação relies on it remaining illegal. Pixação gives a voice to the invisible; by scrawling their names and message onto monuments, churches and skyscrapers, Pixadores are forcing themselves to be acknowledged. Whilst the writing may be hyper-visible, the message is sometimes a little hazy; Pixo, a documentary that explores Pixação as a cultural movement, suggests that Pixação is ‘closed communication’; it is not meant to be understood by the masses, it is just meant to be recognised.

If it was recognition Pixador’s were looking for, brands like Nike and Puma gave them the ultimate acknowledgment. Disregarding everything that Pixação represents, these major, multi-billion dollar brands took Pixação, knocked up a few words on Photoshop, shoved it on the back on a jacket and marketed it as ‘Urban Sportswear’. When taken out of context, and when approved of by majorly powerful and influential brands, the power and transgression of Pixação is significantly diminished; a fate similar to that of graffiti, which has been adopted as an advertising tactic by corporations hoping to appeal to a new demographic.

Aside from the brief appropriation, courtesy of clothing brands, Pixação remains as a largely rebellious movement and São Paulo continues to be recognised worldwide as one of the most influential places when it comes to street art and creative culture.

São Paulo from Jennifer Molloy on Vimeo. Music courtesy Criolo, Brazilian rapper from São Paulo