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.

On March 23 I wrote one of my first blog posts about Complexo do Alemão and the occupation. I wrote about the cable car (Teleférico) that is a project of the government’s PAC program and built as a new form of public transport within the community. Supposedly it would improve the mobility of the community residents; one couldn’t imagine the benefits it brings to the community! But this fairy tale hasn’t yet a very happy ending. Until today the cable car hasn’t been inaugurated…

The thing would be inaugurated on the 7th of April, two weeks after my — already not too positive — blogpost on the general opinion of the residents. I rescheduled my flight to Colombia to be able to join the event. A lot of important people and the press would cover this remarkable day for the Complexo do Alemão. “Finally the mototaxi’s and the vans could be substituted by the teleférico….”

The 7th of April nothing happened. The end of May nothing either; no precise date would prevent people from getting too many expectations. Sometimes we saw the cable car functioning, but that were only test drives.

Now that June has arrived, new promises are made for the “end” of this month. Interestingly, I heard my neighbours talking about a group of strangers — “probably Americans” — who came to visit and inspect the cable car, and proclaimed that the thing would place the houses and buildings below its cables at risk. Meaning that all the houses below the cable car should be removed.

That makes us wonder why a cable car, which has cost around a billion Dollars, if the houses have to be removed anyway. Why not a asphalted street? Or perhaps that wouldn’t even been necessary, as there already are streets. Asphalted, with well-functioning though informal transport (mototaxi, vans). Besides that, over the last couple of weeks more and more people tell me that they wouldn’t use the cable car anyway, as they are afraid of height. While transport is already functioning well in the community, wouldn’t it be more valuable to build a school? A university? A hospital? A library? ….

Residents are starting to realise that the cable car will not be inaugurated, yet. Will it ever? What would Sergio Cabral (the governor) decide if it they really have to remove all the houses and replace the residents (which will cost another billion, if not more)? What weighs more, the shame of “cancelling” the increadibly expensive cable car and admitting that it’s a worthless thing, or investing another billion of dollar for the removal of the houses? Hopefully Cabral can face his error of implementing a useless object and save the houses of the many residents living below the cable car. Because it would be very painful to be forced to leave your house for a cable car which you would be afraid use.

As I wrote earlier, residents — and I share their opinion — think the cable car merely as a tourist attraction. It’s a very impressive construction on the top of hill; you can see the stations even from the city centre (Complexo do Alemão is located in the North Zone, far from the centre). Moreover, it’s about the only construction on top of the hills, as most of the PAC projects are built below, near the asphalt. Apparently, as an architect told me, the focus on the lower part of the hill is justified as there’s a general consensus among urban planners that there shouldn’t be built anything above 100 meters because of ecological reasons (erosion, parts of the favela sliding down through heavy rainfall, etc.). Either this is nonsense and just serves to justify certain choices and interests (favela residents got furious when I discussed this with them: “They just want to remove the favela!”), or the cable car is build in areas of risk. In any case it’s contradictory, which is in itself is terrible as the favela isn’t a place for urban experiments, but the home of a large part of the population of Rio de Janeiro.

The cable car is a hot topic as it has radically changed the face of the favela. People are excited because it’s such a massive construction, and the inauguration will attract a lot of media attention, events and famous people to the community. However, for now and as always, the residents are left poorly informed, watching the empty cars passing above their houses. When?

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.

Before I started my research three months ago, I visited a sociologist based in Rio de Janeiro, Bernardo Sorj. We discussed my research topic and he warned me not to focus too much on the misery. “You Europeans have the tendency to focus on the bad things, making the favela seem like a miserable place”. In the past three months I have thought about his comment a lot. It’s being a struggle not to write about the misery, and simultaneously not to be too positive, or rather, naïve. In the case of the “pacification” – I still can’t write this word without parenthesis – there’s a lot of problems to report about, while the media only highlight the success of the initiative. Someone has to tell the truth, but.. Which truth?

My friend Eddugrau always says “negativity attracts negativity, and positivity attracts positivity”. Therefore it’s dangerous to always criticise the current situation. Currently I am participating in a cinema course in Complexo do Alemão, organised by Cine TeleBrasil, and with a group of 7 adolescents we have to produce a short film. When we were discussing the topic of our film, one of the girls proposed to make a documentary on “Violence after the Pacification”, referring to the decrease of gunfire and homicides, but the simultaneous increase of burglary and domestic violence (violence against women and robbery used to be prohibited in the past, when the drugs gangs held power. This law functioned at the time, but today the soldiers don’t solve these kind of problems). This is something that hasn’t been disseminated by the media, and therefore an interesting and important story to tell. At the same time, however, the favela again is framed negatively. The media – who likes to scapegoat the favela – will pick this up and, perhaps, even distort the argument, causing more damage instead.

An example in this respect is a news item by Dutch correspondent Marjon van Royen on the abusive behaviour of the UPP police (Pacification Police Unit) in the pacified community Cidade de Deus. She interviews two girls that tell how the police have inspected them, demanding them to take off their shirts and touching their intimate places looking for any drugs. I know that the cases she reports on do occur, as I have heard of similar stories in Complexo do Alemão (abusive behaviour of the soldiers in the case), and Providencia (UPP as well). However, rather than providing a constructive criticism, the video is very sensationalist. Such criticism is very dangerous. Not only does it put the girls, who openly and explicitly wish that the drugs gangs would return, at risk. The criticism is very ill-founded, offered without any contextual background. The Dutch audience now has this very negative vision about the situation, but who are the girls who express such criticism? What is their relation with the drugs gangs? Why would they tell such a story to a journalist they don’t know? Why not communicating a more nuanced story about the situation, offering several perspectives? Journalism is business and negativity sells..

The favela is framed as a dangerous, disorganised and barbarous place. Even today, after the “pacification”, people are scared to visit the community. On of the participants of the cinema course told me that when he got off the bus the first day in front of the community, he had doubted for a second. Shall I? Only when he saw the soldiers he took the courage to enter (after all he admitted that his fear wasn’t necessary at all). It’s the media that constructs this distorted image, stigmatizing the favela. Partly it is precisely this stigma that creates this imaginary wall around the favela, segregating the residents. The word “segregating” is rather radical, but I have experienced myself how you are not so much only physically, but also ideologically, excluded from the outside world. The friends I used to go out with in Lapa, Glória, Botafogo and Santa Teresa haven’t visited me once even though I have invited them several times. Not only because they are afraid, but also because this place I live is not seen as an attractive place to go (there aren’t any “good” parties, there isn’t any qualitative good music, etc.). The favela is never sold as a serious opportunity to go out or spend time. It’s this vicious circle of a division between the favela and the outside world hampering any interaction that reinforces the stigma. It’s in this way that negativity harms the favela. Negativity attracts negativity.

This topic keeps me thinking a lot, and I don’t know the answer (yet?). Because we can’t simply neglect the inequality and discrimination, and the fact that the “pacification project” is lacking in many aspects. There’s a lot of “bad” things in the favela that deserve attention, but often the focus is too much on the favela rather than the cause of this misery. Instead of simply reporting on increased domestic violence, the victims and the perpetrators (those criminals!!), it would be more interesting to focus on the ill-functioning of law and the absence of any juridical body inside the favela for the people to consult. In this way would the criticism more constructive?

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.

Hacking the Bogota Book Fair

Posted: May 12, 2011 by Fei An in Culture, New Media, South America
Tags: , , ,

Today I got a little sidetracked from my project in the sense that it wasn’t necessarily linked to my project at Antena Mutante. In no case was it useless though as I spent the day with my newly made friends Camilo Cantor, from Cartografías Sonoras and Andres Melendez at the “Feria del Libro” (Bookfair).

I knew that especially Camilo was up to something, though I wasn’t quite sure what it was yet; something with tiles and hacking the Bogota book fair, but the how or what remained in the dark. So driven by curiosity, I met both Camilo and Andres at 3 o’clock this afternoon in Andres’ living room. As soon as I arrived I was put to work and unexpectedly, I spend my whole afternoon Photoshopping a QR code (picture). Now for those who wonder what that is, the term only became clear to me as well while doing my ‘homework’. Apparently, for the less media savvy under us, there exists a technique to transform all text into a matrix bar code, called Quick Response code (QR) and which can be generated through the Kaywa Reader website amongst others. Once you take a picture of this code with your smart phone (or a special barcode reader), it will automatically convert the code into text, for example a PDF file. And that was exactly what it was, a PDF file of “Free Culture” by Lawrence Lessig, as well as “Free Software, Free Society” by Richard Stallman. Shortly said, both authors criticize the new way of making law which is often influenced by the large corporations that care more about their profits than about the free exchange of ideas.

Now why choose the bookfair as there are already so many books available? That was exactly it, all the books “available” were for sale and in that respect they were not really available to many people. That afternoon, Camilo told me many of the college kids were forced to visit the bookfair as a school trip, all nice, but probably none of them would have the money to actually buy a book. It was all about copyright and therefore the Book fair was the perfect place to do a small intervention such as this one. Camilo wanted to promote the idea of shared and free culture and as a real Dutch, I was thrilled by the idea of ‘free’.

From 3 o’clock in the afternoon until 7 o’clock in the evening we spent time designing, printing, cutting and sticking paper on tile, then tile on wall in order to complete our mission. Once we entered the fair, we’d have to make sure there were no cameras or security people watching us, as we would probably be kicked out of the fair immediately again. But all went smooth and we managed to stick four tiles on the walls of the toilet, near a waiting bench and on some random pass through walls until we were out of the glue of which we were dependent for our action.

But how effective is such an action really? I couldn’t find concrete numbers of Smartphone users in Bogota, but considering that in the whole month that I was here I saw only a handful of people actually using a Smartphone, I figured it couldn’t be that many.  The problem according to Camilo was rather that people that do have a Smartphone in Colombia often do not know how to use it. They still use it to call, text and surf the Internet, but do not know how to profit from it to the fullest. So the aim of the interaction was, apart from the fact that people could download the books for free, to maybe create some awareness as well about the possibilities of smartphones. And just in case, we added the link to download the book as well. Another thing that might be interesting is to automatically generate some sort of tagcloud from all the people that would actually use the QR code in order to retrieve the book, or create a platform where people can leave messages, so you can see the effect of your action. but I guess that will remain a challenge for the next intervention.

Amsterdam, interested?