Category Archives: Brazilian Documentary

Pixação: What is Pixo?


PIXO is a Brazilian documentary (2009) directed by João Wainer and Roberto T. Oliveira:

And here an article written by Marcio Siwi for The Guardian about Pixação and Graffiti:

If Brazil is “not for beginners”, as the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim once said, then its great urban centre, São Paulo, is certainly not for the faint of heart. It’s not just the noisy streets, the extreme socio-economic inequality, the abandoned buildings and the drug addicts roaming notorious “Cracolandia” that give my home city its rough edges. It’s what is written on the walls, too.

There is thick black paint on virtually every wall or facade here. When my photographer friend Pablo Lopez Luz came to visit, it was the first thing that caught his eye: “What’s with all the graffiti?” he asked. “It’s not graffiti,” I replied, “it’s pixação.”

At first sight, it is difficult to tell the two styles apart, but there are important differences. In the case of graffiti – be it tagging or bombing – the letters are rounder and more stylised thanks to the copious use of blending, shading and other techniques. Colour is another important element: the brighter the better in most cases, in images and figures too.

By contrast pixadores, as practitioners are called, (sometimes spelled pichadores) seldom create visuals, only letters. Their ubiquitous calligraphy is composed of straight lines and sharp edges, giving their creations – pixos – a jagged look. They are also primarily black (the verb “pichar” in Portuguese means to cover with tar). But just because pixos are monochromatic and less stylised does not mean they lack history or socio-cultural significance.

There are more than 5,000 active pixadores in São Paulo now.
There are more than 5,000 active pixadores in São Paulo. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

The use of São Paulo’s city walls as a canvas is not new. In the 1930s, political candidates wrote campaign slogans all over them. By the late 1960s, when students took to the streets to voice their dissent against Brazil’s military government, spray painting phrases such as “abaixo a ditatura” (“down with the dictatorship”) on the walls of public buildings became an important act of protest.

 The style we now identify with pixação first emerged in São Paulo in the 1980s. Politically, the country was undergoing a gradual transition to democracy, but politics weren’t the only thing on the mind of São Paulo’s youth – so was heavy metal.

The musical genre that developed in the UK and US gained a strong following in São Paulo. In addition to the brute force of bands such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/DC and Metallica, Paulistano youths were also attracted to their album covers – in particular, the runic-inspired typeface these bands used to brand themselves.

In true Brazilian fashion, youths in São Paulo cannibalised this foreign practice. Thus began the evolution of this city’s distinctive pixação: a style of urban writing that has inspired numerous pixadores to come up with their own variations on this type of calligraphy – according to one estimate, there are more than 5,000 active pixadores in São Paulo alone.

At its most basic level, pixação is about vanity, fame and self-promotion, which is why the vast majority of pixos are either personal monikers or the names of particular griffes (collectives). Fame in the world of pixação is primarily a numbers game – so much so that seasoned pixadores boast about having left their mark on nearly every wall of the city. Currently, one of São Paulo’s most famous and prolific pixadores goes by the moniker RAPDOS, a variation on the word rápido.

Pixação is also about visibility, particularly the kind that can only be achieved through daring acts of courage. In its most basic form, rolê de chão or “pavement cruising”, the targets are walls and the risk is relatively low – although it is still a criminal offence that carries a potential prison sentence.

The more extreme form is janela de prédio (“building window”), for which success is measured in terms of height. Pixadores – usually in teams of two – climb a building’s facade by grabbing on to its window ledges and pulling themselves up, floor by floor, leaving their pixos as they go up. Rooftop pixos require guts and the right equipment – black ink and a paint roller attached to a broomstick – but sometimes that’s not enough, and to extend their reach, pixadores have to dangle their bodies over the roof ledge.

These daring acts, however, do not come close to escalada, or “buildering”, whereby pixadores scale the outside of a building by holding on to its external surge arrester cable. This is a particularly perilous way to climb a building considering that the clamps used to fix this cable onto the facade are not built to withstand the weight of a person. To make matters worse, escaladas are executed at night by a lone pixador.

Not surprisingly, accidents are common – and sometimes fatal. But for the adrenaline-seeking pixador, the pay-off is worth the risk. By scaling the building in such a way, they can access large sections of a facade that have never been touched by another pixador. This kind of real estate is hard to come by in São Paulo, and nearly impossible for those who stick to rolê de chão and janela de prédio, where the competition for space is stiff.

In more extreme forms, success is measured by height.
Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

Aside from fame, visibility and adrenaline, the most important motivation for pixadores is anger – primarily directed against the city. Unlike graffiti (which many pixadores reject as being “too commercial” and a “beautification scheme”), pixação seeks to positively degrade the urban environment. As one pixador put it, pixação is “an assault on the city”.

This hostile relationship is ingrained in the very language of pixação. For instance, pixadores never use the term “paint” or “spray”. Instead, they prefer “arrebentar”, “detonar” or “escancarar” (“smash”, “blow-up” and “destroy”). Some typical pixador monikers translate as “shock”, “neurosis”, “death”, “scare”, “nightmare”, “danger” and “nocturnal attack”.

This anger towards the city is much more than teenage bravado or youthful rage. It is rooted in a sense of social injustice that is intrinsically connected with the pattern of uneven urbanisation that began in the 1940s and continues today. Seeking to remake São Paulo into a modern city, elite reformers and boosters of the 1940s and 50s embarked on ambitious urban renewal projects. In addition to infrastructural improvements, a street widening programme, the construction of a massive urban park (Parque Ibirapuera) and other beautification projects, the main feature of São Paulo’s urban renewal was its modernist skyscrapers.

Fuelled by easy credit, ambitious developers and aspirations for a New York-style skyline, São Paulo experienced an unprecedented building boom in the immediate postwar period. Some of the city’s best known modernist buildings date back to this period, including David Libeskind’s Conjunto Nacional, Franz Heep’s Edifício Itália, and Oscar’s Niemeyer’s iconic S-shaped Copan building.

But while such urban renewal projects may have benefited better-off Paulistanos who lived and worked in and around downtown São Paulo, they had an adverse effect on the lives of the city’s working-class residents. To transform São Paulo into the modern city envisioned, large portions were demolished, especially the “outmoded” buildings located in the downtown area inhabited by the working poor. Unable to find affordable housing in and around downtown, working-class Paulistanos were left with two bad options: join the urban poor in one of the city’s growing favelas, or relocate to the periphery. Most chose the periphery.

Life there was, and still is, challenging. Far from São Paulo’s downtown area where most jobs are concentrated, peripheral neighbourhoods also lacked the basic public services associated with modern urban living, including a proper sewage system, running water, paved roads, electricity, hospitals and schools. One early resident described living in the periphery as “like living in the wilderness”. As a result, São Paulo earned the reputation of being one of the world’s most unequal cities, divided between the haves of the centre and the have-nots of the periphery.

The anger that pixadores felt – and still feel – towards the city should be understood in the context of this uneven pattern of urban development. In the words of a well-known pixador, “Pixação is a reflection of the absence of the state in the life of that person who decided to become a pixador.” It is no coincidence that the vast majority of pixadores hail from São Paulo’s peripheral neighbourhoods and, just as important, that their preferred targets tend to be the centrally located modernist buildings – especially those designed by famous architects.

Pixadores have also targeted historic sites such as the Ramos de Azevedo fountain in downtown São Paulo.
Ramos de Azevedo fountain in downtown São Paulo. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

In recent years, pixadores have targeted icons of São Paulo’s modernism, including the Wilton Paes de Almeida building and Niemeyer’s famous pavilion located inside Ibirapuera Park. Pixadores have also tarnished sites that are part of the city’s historic patrimony, including the Ramos de Azevedo fountain in downtown São Paulo. The more sacred the site, the more attractive it is as a target for their pixos.

Many pixadores approach their craft in terms of politics. As one pixador put it in a recent documentary by João Wainer, “We practise class warfare.” Others are more romantic, hoping that their pixos, by tarnishing the appearance of the more privileged areas of the city, will encourage better-off Paulistanos to reflect on the way working-class residents live – especially those in the periphery.

Unsurprisingly, however, the more common reaction to a wall full of pixos is resentment. To city officials and the “victims” of pixação, pixadores are vandals whose creations – which one observer referred to as “an urban plague” – must be eradicated at all cost.

Local authorities and residents have been engaged in a battle to stem the flow of pixação since the early 1980s, when the practice first emerged. Yet despite hi-tech security cameras, neighbourhood watch groups, police intimidation, draconian laws and a special sanitary unit within the city government dedicated to covering up pixos, pixação is more popular and widespread in São Paulo today than ever before.

The city’s authorities may be no match for pixação, but there are signs that the market forces that have co-opted graffiti and transformed it into an “acceptable” urban expression now hope to do the same with pixação. Pixação – and the image of the pixador as a subversive figure – has already been appropriated by such international brands as Puma to sell their apparel. A pixação-inspired font, Adrenalina, can be downloaded for US$25 and, in 2012, the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art invited a group of pixadores to make an “artistic intervention”.

While some pixadores have embraced the idea of marketing pixação as a “legitimate” art form, others are much more critical. In recent years, one group has invaded a number of art galleries in São Paulo’s hippest neighbourhoods that were exhibiting (and selling) works by pixadores and photographs of pixos. In an act of protest, they covered all the pieces with black ink and painted slogans such as “sell-out” and “the street does not need you”. For these pixadores, ensuring that pixação remains a marginal expression of the urban periphery – as opposed to a marketable commodity – is essential to its very survival.

Marcio Siwi is a PhD candidate in history at New York University whose work explores post-war urban development and cultural production in São Paulo and New York.


Em “Manda Bala”: Jader Barbalho e Magrinho, 2 sequestradores do Brasil. Qual é pior?


Manda Bala Poster

Manda Bala é uma obra prima. Esse documentário mostra o político criminoso (desculpe o pleonasmo), Jader Barbalho, que rouba a dignidade de milhões de brasileiros e ainda consegue ser dono de todas as redes de comunicação paraense e, assim, manipular esses mesmos milhões a continuarem votando nele. Do outro lado, o filme mostra o sequestrador criminoso, Magrinho, que usa parte do dinheiro conseguido com os sequestros e assaltos a banco para comprar medicamentos, instalar esgoto, etc. em sua favela. Magrinho é criminoso porque ele mata, mas provavelmente é muito menos criminoso que Jader Barbalho. Se ele não matasse, ele seria um Robin Hood… mas não, ele mata.  Magrinho deve ter metade da idade de Jader Barbalho e certamente não chegará a idade desse último. Na favela ou na cadeia, não vai durar muito tempo e logo o esqueceremos (exceto suas vítimas e os habitantes da sua favela). Jader Barbalho é outra história: seu nome ficará eternamente registrado em grandes avenidas, etc. A lógica parece uma loucura, mas a loucura faz parte dessa sociedade brasileira (e também global) tão deturpada na qual vivemos. Como disse o detetive anti-sequestro, não temos um policial para cada rico em São Paulo. Os inseguros de carros blindados se sentem no direito de ostentarem sua riqueza. Esses tem uma visão muito peculiar da vida: eles se acham melhores, mas não sentem obrigação nenhuma com a construção de uma sociedade melhor, apenas se o ato lhe trouxer uma massagem egóica – claro. Já ouvi comentários do tipo: “o rico é mais evoluído, o pobre é menos evoluído porque ainda precisa se preocupar com as necessidades básicas”. No filme, um dos melhores exemplos nesse quesito é o Mr. M, o mais típico paulistano novo rico de carro blindado com toda ignorância que lhe cabe e sem a menor noção de ridículo. Por outro lado, um exemplo de consciência é a garota que um dia foi sequestrada, teve sua orelha reconstruída e diz entender a cabeça de seus sequestradores: “eles nasceram na violência e nunca conheceram outro mundo”. Políticos como Jader Barbalho impossibilitam que os milhões que nasceram na pobreza conheçam um mundo melhor. Numa metáfora perfeita, o escândalo da SUDAN mostra que Barbalho trata suas rãs em cativeiro da mesma forma que trata seus eleitores. Ambos não tem futuro. Os Barbalhos são os piores sequestradores do Brasil, eles roubam o futuro do povo brasileiro.

Dois Criminosos

Barbalho, o melhor fabricador de criminosos como Magrinho

Mr. M: o mais típico exemplo do paulistano  novo rico de carro blindado com toda ignorância que lhe cabe sem a menor noção de ridículo.

Mr. M: o mais típico exemplo do paulistano novo rico de carro blindado com toda ignorância que lhe cabe sem a menor noção de ridículo.

Bus 174

Sandro Barbosa do Nascimento

Sandro Barbosa do Nascimento

I have always heard about the kidnapping of the bus 174, and only today I had the chance to watch the documentary “Bus 174” (2002) directed by José Padilha. This incident happened on June 12, 2000 and I was very far from Brazil – that is why I was kind of ignorant about this tragedy. It comes with no surprises, our society is disgusting.

Sandro Barbosa do Nascimento is “not merely poor, or hungry, or doomed to poverty, but suffers from the agonizing psychic distress of being invisible. Literally invisible: Brazilians with homes and jobs go about their lives while unable to see people like Sandro, who exists in a parallel universe (Roger Ebert)”. Adults like Sandro had a violent and/or traumatic background, falling easy for drugs and robberies, scaring the middle and high Brazilian class that feels no responsibility for them and, most of the time, these Brazilians are also against the legal abortion while they have no intention to adopt and are – more and more – crowding the clinics for assisted reproduction.

He saw his mother being stabbed to death. His father was never in the picture. He had a sister and an aunt (Tia Ju, Julieta do Nascimento) but he ran away – probably – to forget the place where he witnessed his mother’s murder. He lived on the streets like all other homeless children. He had been in jail many times. The social worker, Yvone Bezerra, talks of the boy’s dreams – he wanted to find a job and have a home (Roger Ebert). Later he found a woman who gave him a home and who he started calling mom (Dona Elza), but he was probably already taken by the drugs. The sociologist, Luís Eduardo Soares, interprets that the hostage situation and the media coverage enabled Sandro to step out of his invisibility, being seen and heard for the first time.

The director, Padilha, went “inside a crowded jail. Cells are so crowded that the prisoners must live in shifts, half lying down while the other half stand. The temperature is over 100 degrees. The food is rotten, water is dirty, disease runs quickly through the cells, and some prisoners are left for months or years without charges being filed; they have been forgotten. A nation that could permit these conditions dare not call itself civilized (Roger Ebert).”

But even less civilized is the conclusion of the 174 kidnapping: the police in an attempt to shoot Sandro, shot one of the hostages, Geísa, and few minutes later Sandro is intentionally struggled to death by the police – right in front of everybody, inside the police car. Sandro didn’t kill any of the hostages. On the other hand, his assassins were considered not guilty by a popular jury and, they are not only free but still working for the police.

Sandro was one of the survivors of the horrible Candelaria Massacre – when 7 homeless children and 2 homeless young adults were brutally murdered in the vicinities of the Candelaria church where they used to spend the night. The massacre took place on July 23, 1993. From the 62 survivors, at least 39 were later murdered – including Sandro. Twenty years after the massacre, we are ironically “celebrating” this horror with discussions about the reduction of age for criminal responsibility (the Brazilian term brings a different meaning) with about 93% of Brazilians in favor of reducing this age from 18 to 16 years old. Brazilians have learned nothing, and we are still giving our back to these invisible children, and allowing them to become criminals and/or exterminated by the government via police. A note: Some of the assassins of the massacre were considered guilty but are already free, and the other two were never even considered guilty.

The director, Padilha, “uses the tragedy as an opportunity to examine poverty and the plight of street people in Rio de Janeiro”. “Bus 174” won the Special Mention Amnesty International Award at the Rotterdam Film Festival (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat).”

Sandro Barbosa do Nascimento had few moments of visibility while alive, and certainly not how he had dreamt about. Sandro is one of the most important faces of Brazil. We have millions of Sandros in Brazil. We have millions of Sandros in the world.

Despite the fact that I always knew how Sandro was going to die, during the movie, I was picturing him being killed by a competent snipper that could end his life with just one single shot that he would die in less than 7 milliseconds. This world is not fair and he never deserved that life. Where are we going to?

An extended sociological analysis was written by Leandro Coelho Rocha.