Rio de Janeiro’s hillside slums, the “favelas” have become the glamorous face of urban poverty. Helped along by films like “City of God” (and even further back, “Black Orpheus”) they have a charisma that few other such blighted areas can match. “Gringo” visitors to the city often tour Rocinha for their “Rio experience” while few visit the equivalent slums of Lima or Shanghai.
The favelas inspired two recent European artists too. French photographer JR transformed the hillsides of Providencia with huge eyes looking down over the city.
And now a Dutch artist has launched a project to improve civic pride in the Santa Marta favela, between Botofogo and Copacabana, with a radical repainting project. The area now looks like this:
I absolutely love the photos (although every time I see the ones with the eyes, I find them a bit too disturbing for everyday life), but I would feel better if I read that the insides of these dwellings were being improved as well, instead of just getting some new paint on the outside.
Well I suppose its easy to be cynical (and rereading my original post, I was a little). At least they are doing SOMETHING. And I imagine having your house painted in a bright and fabulous color scheme might make you feel better about your neighborhood, even if it didn't immediately solve all your problems. I wonder if the eyes are supposed to make people in the wealthy suburbs below feel like they are being watched and judged? Is their stare accusing? Or is that just my guilty middle class conscience?
I love the eyes ~~ F. Scott Fitzgerald's imagery on steroids!
From the photos, I suspect they're doing more than slapping on paint. There are new bricks and many sacks of concrete in the first picture, and the facades look crisp, with no crumbling or holes.
Having international artists exuberantly acknowledge the existence and aesthetic potential of these neighborhoods surely provides a huge psychological lift to the residents, something they need as much as they need social programs.
This artistic attention reminds me of the woman who organized showings of commercial films in refugee camps.* There were some who criticized her for the "frivolity" of this in the face of so much need, but the refugees themselves were enlivened and heartened by the movies.
I'd comment if they make it all look pretty on the outside like that...perhaps tourists would be more drawn to spending cash in whatever little shops are round about. So the whole lets just paint it and maybe fix the bricks a bit may be more helpful than one would initially think.