Stories from the Favelas

​Pixação in São Paulo

Pixação is a visual art form born from resistance that contributes to the cultural production of São Paulo.

It is probably past midnight. There are men hanging from the top of a high-rise building, holding on to ropes for stability. Wielding spray paints with pride, they draw something on the wall of the building: something black, sharp and incomprehensible to the common eye. These men are pixadores (or pichadores), the city is São Paulo, and the visual is from the documentary São Paulo City Tellers (2006) by Francesco Jodice. Most walls of São Paulo, particularly the ones of centrally located modernist buildings, have similar stories to tell. Pixação is a visual language pervading the urban terrain of the city. Painted with precision and determination, pixação (or pichação)—the black, sharp and non-­visual counterpart of graffiti—dominates the cultural production of the city. Pixação originated in Brazil of the 1980s, as a form of protest during the transition from a military dictatorship to a democracy. From the Portuguese root verb pichar (to cover with tar), pixação is primarily done in black and monochromatic colours. Pixadores convey their messages via monochrome alphanumeric cha­ra­cters, and rarely use visuals, unlike conventional graffiti.

Pixação is as much visual art as it is a tool of resistance.
Source: Marco Gomes/ Flickr

Why do pixadores engage in such intense, dangerous and deviant acts? Probable reasons are the need for fame and vanity, but social injustice is often identified to be the underlying driving force. São Paulo is a city popular for the “haves versus have-nots” narrative spun around it by virtue of its severe economic and social inequalities. Different classes of people relate to the city differently. For instance, before the 2016 Rio Olympics, state-led developmental projects resulted in the eviction and displacement of poor residents while benefiting the wealthy. Pixadores, who are mostly poor men from the peripheries of the city, express their angst and anger at this inequality through the sharp black letters drawn on the heart of the city, to which they are denied access on multiple levels. The origins of this attack on centrally located modernist buildings can be traced back to the 1940s and 1950s when urban renewal projects, headed by skyscrapers and an unprecedented building boom, culminated in uneven urbanisation. A by-product of this was the destruction of buildings in the part of the town where the poor worked. They were presented with two options: either go to the peripheries or be part of the favelas (urban slums) and the city’s urban poor. The peripheries were the popular option, despite lacking basic sanitation and other infrastru­cture. The city was divided, and remains so.

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Updated On : 2nd Jun, 2020

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