Looking out south for inspiration

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I am not sure about you, but a lot of people I know foster great fantasies about Brazil. The country internationally known for football and samba has now outgrown this fame and is on the map as the 5th economy in the world. Spending few weeks there recently, this time it felt really different. It was the first time in my life that I felt a foreigner in my own country, which has changed significantly in the last few years.

After stuttering back to my rusty Portuguese, I was introduced to a new city, cleaner, safer and with so many cultural projects that I barely had time to sleep. MASP, the contemporary art museum lost in the middle of the financial centre of the capital, felt like a breath of world class exhibitions, and was crowded with curious Brazilians from the different parties of the country and many ‘gringos’. An American film director, Jared Levy who has been documenting the street art in Sao Paulo for a few years now, has introduced us to illustrated concrete in a capital of mostly buildings. For any graffiti artist worldwide, the freedom and respect that they get in Sao Paulo must be paradise.

Art galleries like Choque Cultural and Zipper support the high profile grafitti and street artists entering an international circuit in the arts. International names such as Os Gemeos’ (The Twins), who have stamped their mark on the world, including the Tate Modern with their yellowish ‘paulista’ characters representing the people from Sao Paulo were well represented. Another curious statement of graffiti art is the work of Zezao, who uses the sewers as his canvas. Crazy? Possibly – but also innovative art, full of opinion and style.

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In Minas Gerais, the region that owns the precious gems and steel mines, also houses the biggest open air museum in the whole of Latin America: The Centre of Contemporary Art Inhotim, 60km from Belo Horizonte, the capital of the region . With Manicured botanic gardens the centre holds over 500 artworks from over 100 artists from 30 nationalities, with permanent and temporary installations on the minimally and contemporary designed galleries. The collection concentrates on art created after the 1960’s until the present day, including sculptures, installations, paintings, drawings, photography, and film and video. Main artists include Cildo Meirelles, Doug Aitken, Jorge Macchi, Adriana Varejao and many others.

And how could I not talk about Rio, where geography and lifestyle generates such tourism? Even the ‘favelas’ (slams) are now looking better, much better than few years ago, with reasonably priced tiny bungalows for hire, and even hostels, believe it or not. The now famous Brazilian slams have for a long time attracted young artists and teachers working in community projects. These days, worldwide artists use the interesting piled up architecture as an advantageous surface. Two good examples are the work from JR, a French artist who has taken pictures of people from the favela and decorated the outside of the houses with them, creating a rich mosaic. and the Dutch duo Haas & Hahn who used bright colors to bring visual fun to the favela’s houses. Rio is full of street art and graffiti but also hosts the Anima Mundi, an annual international animation festival.

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Of course we can discuss about the richest metals’ industry globally, and the oil reserves, and why there is so much investment in Brazilian land. However, the biggest treasure in Brazil is the creativity perpetuating within the great freedom and humour of contemporary artists. It’s a pleasure, as a Brazilian, to see the power of influence in the international artistic scene. As Ruth Mackenzie, head of the cultural Olympiad for London 2012 games mentioned in her Campfire at ditto, England and Brazil will be working together in the follow up of the cultural activities and the build up to the Rio games in 2016.

Graffiti Fine Art – Official Extended Preview from Jared Levy on Vimeo.


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