Archive for the ‘Culture’ Category

map:m()b, our recent initiative  in which we work with smartphones, stories, cartographies and youngsters, is now working with the young residents of the neighbourhood Gibraltar/Bos en Lommer in Amsterdam West on a documentary about the community.

It’s a project  executed by Kultureel Jongeren Centrum and Fei An, Esther and me are helping these kids to create their own film. Working with them is challenging, that is what everyone warns us for. But for now, most challenging was recruiting participants.

Even though there were over 15 subscriptions yesterday, during the first class, only one girl showed up. While Fei An and I went for a walk through the nearby streets for a last-minute recruitment,  a boy, curious, came by the cultural centre asking what we were doing. He decided to join.

They were 13 (the girl) and 11 (the boy). The two were easy to handle. Shy, but curious, and very excited when we the first exercise was taking different  shots of Esther. Wide, middle, close up, etc. They learned fast so we asked them to make their first short film: interviewing the other as a way of introduction. They prepared questions like: What is your favorite dish? Where do you come from? What is your (school/education) advice? What is your dream? For the first assignment each question and answer should be filmed from another angle.

The boy started interviewing the girl. He was very creative on the different angles. Hilarious were his “Ok, good”, “Ok, perfect, bye” and “aight” after the girl answered his questions but still recording, as if he was speaking to her on the phone. After that the girl interviewed him. But then hormones came into play as a number of other kids wanted to participate too. Among those was one girl who was clearly in love/hate with the 11 year old boy, and the other way around. Concentration and attention was almost gone as the two started to fight and tease each other (I hate him! I hate her!). But just in time the cameras got their attention again. Not to interview, but to impress each other by rapping popular songs they played on their blackberries. The (commissioner’s) objective of the documentary is to make a film on their view on the neighborhood (envisioning interviews with adult residents on actual or historical topics, and the like), their view on what is nice or important in their neighborhood is different: the 11 year old boy’s girlfriends, for instance. Although I think it’s a great topic, I’m not sure what others think about that.

Fei An and I couldn’t help comparing these kids with Brazilian or Colombian youth. In our experiences they are the sweetest and most interested kids you can imagine. The kids we have worked with don’t  mind watching lectures of an hour, they do what you ask, they take your advice, and they return after the first class. Also, Fei An and I felt that the kids we have worked with over there are much more mature at several points, especially in relation to social issues, perhaps because they have experienced more difficulties in life than the Dutch kids. The kids here, especially when a bit older (15-16), are really hard to reach. Are they sick of the ‘social’ and ‘free’ projects in their neighborhoods compared to other courses that are paid, and thus, ‘better’? Or are Latin American kids less spoiled, raised to respect and obey teachers? We can’t yet make clear statements about differences and similarities, but these are our first observations.

Hopefully they return next week. Perhaps not because they like the idea of a documentary so much, but at least because their secret lovers are participating as well. One thing is sure: we already love them!

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The ‘pacification’ of the favela Complexo do Alemã0 in Rio de Janeiro has caused many changes in the everyday lives of the residents. A territory that used to be occupied by drugs gangs is now being (re-)taken by the Brazilian state through the occupation by the army, in order to increase security in these areas, as part of a larger pacificiation project in the run to the World Cup and the Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro (2014/2016).  The presence of the army not only means the replacement of a local power and the eviction of the drugs gangs, but also the imposition of the state’s laws and rules, the entrance of the market (criminalization of informality) and an increasing attention by NGOs and cultural/social projects. The favela becomes increasingly popular as a potential market for private companies as well as for reporters, researchers and the implementation of social projects. In other words; the favela is ‘hot’ and opening up.

During march and july 2011 I lived in Complexo do Alemão and conducted an ethnographic study on locality in a territory that is subject to radical changes. Download thesis

In the run to the Brasil Festival Amsterdam Dutch NGO Caramundo organized an expert meeting on urban art. It’s a kick off to the new R.U.A (Reflexo on Urban Art) project taking place in Amsterdam next month and a follow up of the R.U.A. project in Rotterdam in 2009. In this project Brazilian street artists/grafiteiros came to the Netherlands and painted several walls of big buildings in Rotterdam, showing the Dutch a little of the Brazilian street art culture.

The R.U.A. (rua means ‘street’ in Portuguese) project  is an exchange initiative to introduce Brazilian grafiteiros to Dutch street artists and encourage them to learn from each other and to collaborate. Brazil is renown for its lively and vibrant street art culture and the government has a relatively open attitude towards graffiti for the decoration of public spaces and as a form of ‘public art’. Regina Monteiro, the director of SP Urbanism, sector of urban planning in São Paulo, tells us about the law Lei Cidade Limpa she introduced in the city of São Paulo. The law prohibits billboard marketing in the city, which means that São Paulo is now a paradise for mural art and graffiti and radically changing the visual landscape of the city.

Graffiti and ‘pixação

A discursive distinction, however, is made between ‘street art’ and ‘pixação’ (tagging, scratched text). German researcher Matze Jung from the Berlin based Archiv der Jugendkulturen presents his research on graffiti in Rio de Janeiro from a geographical point of view. Whereas graffiti is seen as urban beautification, artistic expression and even, he argues, as the ‘voice of the favela’ (even though, in my opinion, most graffiti artists are middle class creatives and activists), the pixação is seen as an urban plague and optical pollution. Street artist Gais from Rio de Janeiro argues that graffiti should be seen as an improvement of public space for the pleasure of the audience, thus pleasing others, while tagging is as a rather egocentric act writing down your name. However, some argue that the pixação is more than a pointless act of writing down one’s name. Rio de Janeiro architect Ludmila Rodrigues touched upon how pixação can also be seen as a struggle over space, or power, as they can often be found at the most inaccessible places, like high buildings. In this way, pixação serves another ‘function’ than street art, but I think it should therefore not be regarded as ‘vandalism’. Whereas graffiti can serve a political function, pixação in many ways does too.

Dutch policy

Contrary to Brazil’s progressive policies, in the Netherlands graffiti is prohibited and the word itself carries a very negative connotation. An artist in the audience comments that when she asks permission for a graffiti project the answer is always ‘no’. But when she describes the same project as a mural project it will often be accepted. Murals are art, graffti is vandalism. But can the two really be separated? That question is subject to a heated discussion.

Several comments and examples are coming from the audiences, varying from The Hague policy, where artists can subscribe at a ‘street art agency’ that calls these artists when there will be a mural project in the city. In Delft is a tunnel open for artists to paint, similar to a fence/wall in Amsterdam Oost. In addition, a student in the audience briefly presents his bachelor thesis on street art, in which he proposes a solution to the ‘polluting graffiti’ by fining tagging and rewarding ‘beautiful artworks’ with a grant, or subsidy thus stimulating ‘beautiful graffiti’. Several artists from the audience react indignantly: You cannot distinguish between the two! Who is to decide what art is ‘beautiful’ and what is ‘ugly’? Where lies the boundary? And besides, for someone to become a good artist, he needs to experiment and train himself. A mural doesn’t emerge spontaneously!

A Dutch street artist and founder of the Amsterdam Street Art Foundation Jarno (anecdotally though with a sense of irony he explains that since he founded his Foundation, people, and especially the municipality, takes him much more seriously being art director of a foundation instead of a ‘mere’ street artist). He explains that for him, and many graffiti painters with him, the drive to tag is uncontrollable. It’s something he needs to do. Therefore, it’s totally different from graffiti art, but just as important. However, he does recognize the transforming potential of graffiti art. It can totally recover a degraded area; improving the view and the atmosphere. But still, Dutch policy doesn’t facilitate painting. As Angelo Bromet, the initiator of Hotspot Heesterveld, notes: Dutch policy makers adore the Favela Painting project by Haas & Hahn in Rio, but only as long as it stays there.  They don’t want it in Amsterdam Southeast.

Painting: process or product?

Matze then adds to the discussion on pixação vs graffiti art that we might not only want to look at the outcome of street art. The painting is a creative experience and learning process and therefore, any form of painting is valuable. In this regard, I think that precisely the struggle over space and places to paint is part of this, as a struggle over voice and personal and artistic space. Another comment comes from Onno Vlaanderen, experienced as a former member of the amenities committee of the municipality of Amsterdam, who argues that as an artist you are always bending and stretching the rules and laws, see how far you can go. Isn’t that what art is? An experiment? Here we find a major difference between Brazil and the Netherlands: the space the artist experiences to paint. Ludmila, currently living in the Netherlands for her studies, has noticed that the cities of the Netherlands (and Europe) are much more controlled than Brazilian cities. Vigilance, increased security, strict policies, bureaucracy, and so on, hamper painting in many ways. Note how in the video above, when interviewing the artists in Rotterdam, police men constantly walk by. Also, the rapid privatization of public spaces calls for new ways in which graffiti art can occur in the city.

Taking over the streets?

There is a long way to go for Dutch street artists to ‘take over the streets’. But is it desirable to open up the dialogue with the government? Shouldn’t street art stay away from bureaucracy and remain ‘underground’ and spontaneous, and uncontrolled? Anouk Pipet from Caramundo explains how they realized the spaces in Rotterdam in 2009 by lobbying and negotiating with the owners of particular buildings. Most of the artworks are still there today, as the public enjoyed it and wanted the paintings to stay.

The debate by far exceeded the time and still, two hours of discussion wasn’t enough even to define what street art includes, let alone what policies should exist. The R.U.A. project in Amsterdam next month will at least provide new thought for artist and policy makers, demonstrating some more Brazilian creativity on the antique Dutch walls of the Westergasterrein.

After the occupation of Complexo do Alemão in November 2010 – until then considered one of the “most dangerous” favelas of Rio – there is an increased interest from actors (public, private and non-profit) outside of the community. Especially digital technologies play an important role in this process. Community residents have recognised the interest from the media, large companies and the state in reporting about the local reality and doing “social work”. The favela has become pop.

For the group of adolescents Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, and some other community residents active on Twitter, the Internet connects their community, to which the media until the occupation had very limited access, with the outside world. They want to communicate an alternative image, different than the usual image of violence, criminality and poverty. At the same time, they try to link to several (big) actors from outside (particularly Globo, Coca Cola, Santander (a private bank), AfroReggae (a NGO/social business)) to disseminate their information. Simultaneously, they try to establish partnerships with those companies, in order to get subsidies or donations.

Another initiative – by Rene Silva, the guy who got famous after reporting via Twitter about the invasion in November 2010 – is the recently launched portal A Voz das Comunidades (The Communities’ Voice). The portal reports about events, issues and actualities in several communities. In this way, the voice of the communities is connected, producing content autonomously. The residents of several communities produce content which is edited by Rene and his team (Gabriela and Renato, both collaborators of Rene’s journal Voz da Comunidade).

Today more than ever is the time for companies to invest in the favelas, areas that are now accessible and provide an enormous potential in terms of consumption. More than the public sector, big companies lie in wait to sponsor social/cultural projects. The group Descolando Ideias has already won a prize during an event sponsored by Santander, and are now moving into the direction of using this interest in order to guarantee the inclusion/entrance of these companies in the community through publicity, simultaneously informing the community residents about the services, products and opportunities (jobs) these companies offer.

Thus, they use big companies to survive and to be able to make a living, and simultaneously they try to achieve social change. For instance, they produced an item on excessive amounts of garbage and the week after the municipality cleaned that particular area. Furthermore, after a couple of critical posts at the portal on abandoned playgrounds and holes in the streets authorities came to have a look. In this way, their communication articulates actors and events inside the community with the outside world.

I observe how they try to maintain an “own” identity, representing the community, but at the same time the desire to be “included”, to establish links with actors outside of the favela. On the one hand they tend to communicate a “community identity”, through for instance the portal. Changing the image of the favela, bringing to the forth the positive side. However, whether positive or negative, the idea of the favela as separated from the rest of society is in this way reinforced. On the other hand, their links with big companies, the public sector, the media and NGOs in a way tear down this imaginary wall that used to divide two societies. In this way, these actors “ideologically” enter the community, while simultaneously this group of community residents tries to go beyond the boundaries of their community. That is, through linking to other actors (@Santander_br, @Cocacola, @sergiocabralrj) they claim a space to make their voice heard and they virtually expand their territory (the favela).

It’s interesting how new digital technologies change the way in which community residents have a voice. The Internet certainly offers possibilities for Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, a tool they didn’t have before. Also, the “pacification” has definitely played a role, as the media has pointed their eyes on the favela, and thus discovered these adolescents. Complicated, however, is the fact that the majority of the residents in Complexo do Alemão (still) uses Orkut and MSN, which excludes them from participation in this “debate” and limits the community’s access to this information. That is, Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade report on local – everyday – events focused on an audience outside of the favela, and simultaneously (especially Descolando Ideias) on the distribution of useful information inside the community. For instance: A new filial of private bank Bradesco has been inaugurated in Grota, one of the communities of the Complexo. This is necessary, as many residents aren’t aware of this and still go to other, more distant, neighbourhoods to pay their bills. But unfortunately, few residents access Twitter, Facebook and the group’s blog and therefore miss this information. A very amusing idea by one of the girls of Descolando Ideias is to take the streets with their laptops and create Facebook and Twitter accounts for anyone who passes by, thus increasing the inclusion of these residents in their activities. Besides the fact that people don’t know about these channels of information, this kind of community media is also devalued by the residents. The mass media (TV, Radio) still have a much bigger influence than new media. Yesterday in a discussion about the work of Voz da Comunidade and the portal someone mentioned that some residents prefer to send their stories to the mass media (f.i. Globo) than to the platform, thinking that the latter won’t have any effect. They also commented about some cases in which people don’t know Rene in person, but through a reportage on TV. This is an interesting – though not ideal – way in which the information distributed by these adolescents through the Internet returns to the residents of their community.

I see a very important role for these communicators, as something that is seriously lacking in the community is information. There isn’t any channel of information that informs the community about issues such as the replacement of the army by the UPP, the inauguration of the cable car, the opening of a new bank, which are all events that affect the residents in their everyday life. I think it’s a crime to keep people ill-informed about events that have profound impact on their lives (such as for instance the replacement of the army by the UPP (peace police)!), not to mention the fact that they usually don’t have a voice in the decision-making processes regarding such events/issues. The other day a functionary of the State Secretary of Human Rights came to inform the residents about their rights. She read out loud the rights listed in the UN declaration of Human Rights to the audience, but it struck me that she forgot to mention the Right to Information, which is seriously violated in the community. For now, however, Twitter and Facebook might not be the most adequate ways to disseminate information inside the community, and simultaneously, residents often don’t want to exchange Globo and its novelas for community media. Descolando Ideias and Voz da Comunidade, on the other hand, contribute to a different image of Complexo do Alemão, which in relation to an earlier post on the negative image of the favela, is very important.

The public school/highschool Colégio Jornalista Tim Lópes at Estrada da Itararé in Complexo do Alemão hosts a big and nice swimming pool, meant for the students. But, due to a lack of lifeguards or teachers the pool has, since the school’s inauguration almost a year ago, not been used.

Before

After


Boys on the lookout for soldiers

Residents now claim the pool, and they’re right! Isn’t it their (public) money that is used for this pool? It would be a waste not to use it. Residents broke the cage and invaded the pool to find some refreshment on hot days. A couple of kids stay on the lookout for soldiers, who’ll punish them if they catch the kids in the pool. Last week I couldn’t withstand them calling me to join. I believe true ethnography is immersion. In this case, in the pool.

Favela Festival a.k.a. Idols

Posted: June 2, 2011 by ellensluis in Culture, South America

In my earlier blogpost I already announced Favela Festival, an initiative by NGO CUFA with support from the state secretary of culture. The festival focused on MPB (musica popular brasileira), aiming to promote music styles other than funk within the favelas. Participants were all residents of favelas in Rio.

Apart from a few (serious) criticisms regarding the event’s format, I really enjoyed the final of the festival. The finalists were all very talented artists and bands, with music varying from samba, forró, samba-rock, rock, and pop. The festival was followed by a show of Caetano Veloso, one of Brazil’s most famous MPB artists.

Although Eddugrau didn’t win, his show was definitely very impressive. He was performing in his own community, so a lot of people came to see him. Before his band started to play, he took off his shoes and said: “This is my territory, so I want to be in touch with my feet.” His music is called Paralelo, talking about the difficulties of favela life. “Arranging bread, without having a salary” reflects how he always had to find his way in between crime and legality. Not willing to involve in crime, neither to be exploited when arranging a job with a minimum salary, he managed to survive. He finished his show impressing the audience “A long time I used to be right there where you are. Today I am here, the place where I always dreamt of. So dream, don’t be scared to dream!!” Very powerful words if you realise that precisely this lack of dreaming limits people’s opportunities and capacity to change.

(Eddugrau’s performance in the 7th round of the Favela Festival)

Another artist that deserves attention was the 60 years old sambista Mazzin Mazzamba with a song called “Suzanna”. Particularly Suzanne, my new Dutch friend who came to visit Complexo do Alemão, was flattered by this man. His show was stunning and at the stage he lost about 30 years of age. He really rocked, and he made it to the shared second/first place.


The fact that there wasn’t a winner in the final is one of the organisational matters I want to elaborate on. It brought a lot of frustration among the audience and the participants. When the “judges” had discussed the results it turned out that there was a shared second/first place. A video – produced in broad daylight, they didn’t even try to make the audience belief this wasn’t planned at forehandexplained that the actual final would be the next week one of the most famous TV shows presented by Faustão, and that the Brazilian audience would vote. That makes us question the role of the judges at the final, as it was already determined at forehand that there would be no winner that day.

Something else that bothered me was the fact that the festival was a competition, a copy of Idols, which is a very attractive format for the audience, but very contradictory when aiming to promote other styles and artists. That is, in a competition there can only be one winner, and all the others lose. Why disappointing everyone but the winner? How does that relate to “promoting talent”? Besides that, different styles of music can not be compared with one another, let alone be “better” or “worse”. When the festival ended, I hardly saw happy faces leaving the place. The atmosphere had changed totally. This format stimulates a very competitive ideology, which I think we have to leave behind us if we really want to change something. Whereas Idols was profit-based and therefore meant to attract a large audience, this project aimed at the promotion of talent in favelas, promoting social and economic inclusion. Organised and sponsored by an NGO (non-profit??) and the state, the focus should be on the artists rather than the audience. Why not organising an actual festival with bands from favelas? Why the competition element?

The past days I have been thinking about this event a lot. The artists, winners or not, have gained a lot of attention and the opportunity to play for an audience, but it felt really unfair. Yesterday I watched “Quanto vale ou é por quilo” (how much is it worth, or is it per kilo), a Brazilian movie that criticises the third sector, linking it with a history of slavery and racism. How is poverty used to make a living, or rather, to make a lot of money? I couldn’t help thinking of this event in relation to the movie. For instance, when I commented about the festival many residents from the community didn’t know about it. When I explained that it was a festival, organised by CUFA, one lady said: “Ah, but those kind of projects, organised by those big NGOs, they aren’t meant for us, or for the community. They only focus on the big media, on publicity.” I knew what she meant when I saw the propaganda of the festival passing on TV. Globo announced “Favela Festival, followed by a show of Caetano Veloso, 14th of May in Complexo do Alemão”. It didn’t say what time and where. Was it really the main goal to get people to the festival? Or rather to announce the fact that they organise or sponsor such a festival, propagating their “good” intentions?

I commented this with Eddugrau, who of course was disappointed that he hadn’t won, but at the same time knows that his participation will have positive effect on his career, particularly in terms of visibility. And in relation to the above, we all know that the fact that he hadn’t won doesn’t mean he isn’t a very good artist, through which he could put into perspective his “loss”. While for me it seems that through the realization of such events those artists are used for larger interests of the organising parties, I realise that the latter also need the big guys in order to exist, or grow. It’s kind of tactical, using the powerful in order to subvert those structures and become someone, to have a voice and to transform something in the future. That’s why I think his song – Paralelo – is so symbolic, particularly at this festival. While culture is business, hopefully some artists remain parallel.

Video of the Feria Free Book Intervention

Posted: May 13, 2011 by Fei An in Culture, New Media

Below you find the video I edited of our intervention at the Bogota Book fair.

Hacking the Bogota Book Fair from Fei An Tjan on Vimeo.

With much thanks to Camilo from Cartografías Sonoras and Andres.