Category Archives: Brazilian Movies

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.


About Brazilians…


“As Tom Jobim says, “Brazil is not for beginners…”,

how come you live in a place where stamps come unglued,

sopa melts almost before you can use it,

rivers run too fast to the sea?

I would like to understand this unbearable joy Brazilians have,

this constant urge to celebrate,

and there is your melancholy, it’s drama,

it’s flamboyance, it’s abandon.

To a North American, in particular to one like me,

it is… out of proportion, excessive.

Kennedy’s assassination, such mourning,

such outpourings of grief.

The doormen, cab drivers, cleaning ladies…

Why? What is it you lost?

But when the military coup happened

and you lost your freedom,

I was there, I saw it;

you went on playing soccer on the beach.

The longer you stay in one place,

the less you understand it.”


I don’t really know if Elizabeth Bishop wrote this about Brazilians… but that is how is portrayed in “Flores Raras”, the movie about her years in Brazil living with Lota Macedo Soares. True or not, it is a very good picture about Brazilians to the eyes of a North American (as to my own eyes).

Left: Elizabeth Bishop; Right: Lota Macedo Soares

Left: Elizabeth Bishop; Right: Lota Macedo Soares

Flores Raras e Equivocadas por Alfredo Brito

Flores Raras e Equivocadas por Alfredo Britto

Elizabeth Bishop.

Elizabeth Bishop


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.

Adrift (À Deriva) Movie


A deriva Filme

Brazil, Buzios 80’s. A couple in crisis, Mathias (Vincent Cassel) and Clarice (Debora Block). 3 children. Filipa (Laura Neiva), the oldest and main character, feels the tension between the parents, the mother’s constant drunkenness and the beginning of her father’s affair with an American woman, Angela (Camilla Belle). Adrift, Filipa watches everything while transitioning between childhood and maturity. Written and Directed by Heitor Dhalia. 5 stars, certainly. Acclaimed at Cannes.

Búzios anos 80. Um casal em crise, Mathias (Vincent Cassel) e Clarice (Debora Block). 3 filhos. Filipa (Laura Neiva), a mais velha e personagem central, sente a tensão entre os pais, a constante embriaguez da mãe e, o início de um caso do pai com uma americana, Ângela (Camilla Belle). Filipa, à deriva, enquanto observa tudo, transita entre a infância e a maturidade.  Escrito e Dirigido por Heitor Dhalia. 5 estrelas, certamente. Aclamado no Festival de Cannes.