January 31st, 2013, last day of a busy year and an acid desire that my 2014 started with the energy of the sea. Rio de Janeiro, the wonderful city and with a thousand charms, welcomed me with open arms on a bright sunny day with the blue sky color of the sea. It was at the hidden stairs, after a delicious sea bath, that I said goodbye to that very exciting year.
Watching the fireworks at Copacabana beach was as I was welcomed to 2014. Eighteen minutes of lights, sounds and psychedelic effects, although extremely polluting to the sea, for me was not just celebration and party, but a mandalístic energy that came from those drawings formed in the sky and hypnotized me, allowing me to almost meditate, even with the crowd. I kept walking along the beach and ended my night at station 9 in Ipanema; Reveillon Bossa Nova, good music, quiet, feet in the sand and an amazing view of the Morro Dois Irmãos illuminated by the lights of Vidigal favela.
First of January, time to go to the beach, relax, energize with the sun and salt water, almost medicinal. While sitting on the sand, I could observe a cool guy, looking like a surfer with black-power hair, drawing on a notebook all day. I was curious because he drew, drew and drew until the sunset… moreover, that sunset, worthy of applause, rose across the beach to enjoy the stunning visuals of sunlight reflecting on the water, which reflect on heaven and leaves everything with gold color….
After watching this spectacle of nature, I was invited to join the youth group from which the boy who was drawing belonged. I bet he was a tattoo artist, but when I asked what these drawings were about, the universe gave me the first gift of 2014: the boy was a graffiti artist… haaaa, how can I believe this is just a coincidence? One of the reasons I’m in Rio is to organize the second stage of the event on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation with my colleagues from Montebelo, with the support of Conexão Cultural. The first step happened in Paris in August 2013, where 5 urban artists intervened on canvas with pictures of waves and donated them to save our beloved oceans.
The first step of my job was about finding active urban artists to curate the project, so my plan was to walk around the city, discover the colorful walls and consequently the artists of Rio de Janeiro. With this natural meeting with PXE drawing on the beach, the doors opened, I mean, they were flung open and a super bike tour on the next day, guided by the kindness of PXE, made my research started to take shape.
The bike tour was scheduled for 10 am in Copacabana, just in front of PEX’s house. From there, we went to the Rodrigo de Freitas lagoon to see some walls along the contour. Following a big wall in front of the Botanical Garden and at the foot of the Christ, the Redeemer, all united works of great carioca names. I photographed absolutely everything, more than 300 paintings, more than 50 artists including: Toz, Acme, Marcelo Eco, Bruno Big, Tarm, Smael, Muda collective, etc., plus many artists from other parts of Brazil and the world.
Street-art framed by nature!
Already exhausted from pedaling hours and hours in that sun, with chaotic traffic that requires double attention, pedaling along the pedestrian way not to get run over by rude drivers, we arrived at Baixo Gávea, and headed to Leblon, Ipanema and Copacabana, finally to see the works of my “guide”, that dominates the walls of South Carioca area, either with a tag or complex paintings.
In addition to graffiti, PXE is also a great activist, who makes actions since 2008 on the beaches in a creative and collaborative way, on the topic Clean Beaches. When I introduced him the purpose of our project, he accepted without hesitation. I mentioned to him about my desire to go see the favela and how urban art could be transformative for the community. It was when PXE told me a little about the projects of the graffiti artist Acme, who lives at the favela PPG (Pavão, Pavãozinho and Cantagalo). Acme, besides painting intensely, also usually invites other artists to intervene in the slum in order to bring more color, culture, integration and joy to the community, and was also a founder of the MUF - Museum of Favela at this same community.
Nothing could be more perfect than visiting the favelas and take the opportunity to personally invite Acme to join our project. At first, we had an impression that it was a peaceful, pacified favela and did not bother to climb to the top of the top (where Acme lives), in a place called Vietnam Field.
For this visit, on a cloudy Friday, after a storm that had occurred the previous day, flooding part of the city and leaving many residents without energy, we were accompanied by PXE: myself, the girls of the Conexão Cultural, Raissa and Manuela, as well as Demian, an English guy from Underground Paris. Up the hill seemed an adventure, but perceiving the reality on the way was something sad. A dirty place, without basic sanitation, cramped houses in mazes and alleys, built in hazardous locations, illegal and dangerous ways to obtain energy, super difficulty to climb the long steep and uneven stairs that left me with leg pain for days.
On our way, we met a group of policemen, armed with rifle and machine gun, and we were petrified, since they were almost in “action”, pointing guns forward, upward, hiding behind walls and pointing the guns before showing themselves. It seemed like we were in a scene from the Brazilian film “Tropa de Elite”. It was shocking to know that this reality is repeated in front of people on the community, day and night without stopping.
At the same time, as we were climbing and discovering graffiti on the walls, most of them made by Acme, and also enjoying panoramic views and a stunning sea surrounded by the Atlantic Forest, we were even more excited for the meeting. Asking to the community: “Where is Acme’s house?”, finally at the top, we found this little paradise, although unsafe because of the violence of the favela.
Acme gently opened the door of his house, a love nest, where he lives with his two sons and his wife Iani, or in the words of the artist, his princess. Acme is a man of vision, sensitive and who believes in the progress of the community, all his hands touch turns into art. His home is all made of recyclable material and is already a work of art itself, although very simple but also very warm with artwork on the walls made by the children of the community with trash and other graffiti artists.
For Acme, the future lies on the education we give to our children. “Children who are born in the favelas develop physical cunning to survive on the hill, wuth a lot of dirt and danger, but at the same time they are not encouraged to take a critical sense”. Acme explained that due to the difficulty of going up and down the hill to access the city, many children do not go to school or start to go very late.
His house is full of kids from the neighborhood, it is a unique safe place, healthy under the guard of this couple, who loves, teaches and exudes art, even in a “time bomb”, where shootouts can start every time, as described by Iani. “We have no peace here even for a day, day and night we hear shots, either police or bandits, we live with fear all the time”.
Acme has a project to build a school on the court behind his house, so the children could be educated in the shantytown, since the municipality and the government ignore the basic needs of the communities in the slums. Acme, besides being one of the founders of MUF, now is heading to be the curator of a huge project that will take 40km of graffiti walls in the North Zone of Rio.
To finish this unforgettable and transformative visit, a real lesson in the sad reality of our Brazil, which is compensated with the spectacular view of houses on the hill, and with noble and sensitive hearts as Iani and Acme, Acme brought us to a trail, even above his house where we could see Rio de Janeiro, the top of Morro Canta Galo, one overlooking to Lagoa Rodrigo de Freitas and all the postcards of the Marvelous City. This is the only spot in town where you can see both the Christ, the Redeemer and Rio-Niterói Bridge. I echo the words of PXE to Acme: Gratitude for this moment.
Note: The next day of our visit at the favela PPG, a man was shot and killed by police. The 21-year-old boy was accused of drug dealing and, according to the Police, would have reacted to an approach aiming a gun at the officers. Residents deny, stating that there was no exchange of fire and he was shot in the back. See full article here.
The event, produced by Montebelo in partnership with the cultural producer Raissa Couto who works at Conexão Cultural, on behalf of the Surfrider Foundation, is a charity and collaborative event, all are welcome to participate in this action on behalf of the protection of our oceans.