Category Archives: Brazilian Movie Reviews

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.


Blues Eyes (2010)


Blue Eyes 2010

Review written by S.H.

When I was a kid, one of my whimsy questions was if my eyes are colored differently than my natural brown colored eyes, I would see the world differently. Because I thought I was “seeing” the world through my eyes, foreigners with eyes colored blue, green, and gray would see it differently. I wanted to have an eye transplant so that I could see the world with their eyes. Now, I question to the kid inside myself that whether I think that people with the same colored eyes would see the world identically. The movie, Blue Eyes, answers to the question that we see the world according to what eye colors we have somehow identically and somewhat differently.

The movie narrates its story of conflicts between people whose race, nationalities, and cultures are different. Its major role is a U.S. immigration officer who starts the conflict. On his last day at the job, he abuses his power upon foreign entrants whom they randomly choose by their nonsensical process of picking out some of them to interrogate the purpose of their entrance. During the process of interrogation, the officer oversteps his authority and provokes one of them by doubting and mocking his personal stories. Eventually, the violent argument between him and the officer grew into a physical fight and result in the tragic death of the entrant. His guilty conscience forces him to look for his only daughter in his motherland, Brazil. Arriving at his home, the officer finds out that everything he has confessed to him during the interrogation was true that he was a good citizen of U.S. working as a teacher who had a daughter with his ex-American wife. It ends with close-up shot on the blue-eyes of the daughter. And I thought this is a successful ending, which signifies that we see the world identically despite of our differently colored eyes.

The movie shows two types of spaces: one is the inside space of the interrogation room located aside of the entrants’ waiting room, and the other is the open space of Brazilian cities and roads. Although characters in the movie later utter where they are and identify the spaces, movie viewers recognize the spaces at first glance. Because existing visual cues in the movie actually exist in our lives, we have stored data of the cues by bottom-up processing as having already perceived and experienced in our lives. By seeing passports, officers’ costumes, and contrasting complexions of officers and people waiting in the other room, we “see” by top-down processing the immigrant waiting room of the U.S. airport. If the movie viewers have never been in airports, it would be difficult to see what the space is. Yet, the majority of the viewers are Americans who movies from city to city by flight due to their wide nation and foreigners who have come from outside of U.S.

These bottom-up and top-down processes drive the viewers to be engaged in the actions, events, and conflicts of the characters. When the conflict between the officer and the Brazilian-American man reaches its peak, with appearance of a gun, there happens aroused tension between them that affect the viewers. We see they are in danger that might cause one or both to be killed. The viewers perceive the gun as stimuli as the bottom-up processing of their brain reacts to what they see that is “thought to have simple physical properties that are inherently emotional: [because] bottom-up emotions are elicited largely by perceptions, which need not be accessible to conscious awareness and are often biologically prepared” (Mcrae et al., 2012). And after the man has been killed when the officer finds out that the stories of the man confessed to him are true, the viewers once more become engaged in feeling sympathy. For the viewers infer the circumstances and consequences around the actions and incidents performed by the characters by top-down process that “elicits largely by cognitions, which are not tied to any particular perceptual stimulus, but rather to linguistically represented appraisals that are usually accessible to conscious awareness”(Mcrae et al., 2012).

Perceiving, appreciating, and understanding and sympathizing others originates from seeing. For we perceive and experience the world by seeing. Although we have different eye colors, we see and experience the same world. For the biologically related bottom-up and cognitively connected top-down process of human beings functions identically. Still, I think, we see the same world differently according to what eye colors we have because like different complexions of we have, eye colors moderately reflect the difference of our races, nationalities, and furthermore cultures. After watching the movie, I was surprised by seeing my Professor because she was weeping. I was emotionally agitated by the tragic movie, because I as a foreigner living in U.S. could feel sympathy for the Brazilian-American man. Yet, the degree of how she felt sympathy for the man was distinctive from mine. For she who has come from Brazil shares the same culture with him and therefore the views of Brazil and its people and language had driven her to be engaged in the movie more than I had been who have come from different culture. Yes, we see the world through our eye. Yet, we largely perceive the world by our brain that mean seeing through ourselves.

Blue Eyes at the Mostra V: Brazilian Fim Series November 6, 2014.

Olhos Azuis 2010