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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: October 2013

7 - Colouring Pollution: ‘Cleaning’ the City and ‘Recycling’ Social Values in São Paulo Street Art

from II - Media


Garbage art

Adopting city surfaces as their open canvas, Brazilian street artists inscribe São Paulo's built environment with a chaotic flow of colourful imagery and typographic scripts. Their cumulative input to the urban visual sphere constructs an alternative mediation of the cityscape based in mediatic excess, which disorients (or rather, reorients) the experience and expectations of urban conditions negotiated by city inhabitants on a daily basis. While paulistano street art practitioners frequently envision their creative endeavours as an ‘arte pro povo’ – a ‘popular’ public art located between the margins and the masses – because of their nonconformist (often unauthorized) use of public space, these amendments to urban content are routinely positioned as an excessive and disorderly social text which disrupts the appearance of prescribed visual order, seemingly beyond the control of the city authorities. Threatening formalized efforts (particularly by the state) to enforce orderly city planning or to maintain intended architectural aesthetics, such street art transgressions can subsequently become maligned as a contaminating presence, a ‘visual pollution’ which mars the cityscape.

Playing on this sense of pollution – at once evoking ecological, societal and aesthetic connotations – multiple street artists visually articulate their concern for the conditions of São Paulo's physical and social environments by engaging a ‘garbage’ framework within their art. Specifically, these eco-ethical discourses are achieved through the incorporation of waste management mechanisms (especially recycling and cleaning) into the construction of their artistic productions in order to highlight polluting behaviours habitually performed within the urban environment and social body.