Posts Tagged ‘Brazil’

While we justified our trip to Brazil as attending a conference, I will now openly admit that it was actually a festival. After three days of listening to all kinds of interesting projects and networking opportunities, I felt like my head was flowing over with information and new inspiration to take home again.
Experiencies exchangeTo give you readers some context: Festival Cultura Digital is an International encounter where different people, projects and groups present themselves in order to strengthen an international network of people working in the field. Three days full of experiences exchanges, workshops and keynote speakers such as Yochai Benkler, Michel Bauens, and Paolo Coelho amongst othersall treating the workings of the web, independent media, hacking and so much more. We were there, now known as ‘map:m()b’ to talk about mapping stories and community journalism.
We were scheduled only on the third day of the festival and therefore had the rest of the days to watch and learn from the other projects. Many interesting ideas passing the agenda. The festival hosted such an great amount of projects and initiatives that it was impossible for us to attend them all, however I do want to give you an impression of some projects to expect there.

Waste2No project explores how the Internet of Things (IOT) can be integrated with Urban and domestic environments in order to enhance sustainability. In this stage, the project aims to create a website that allows people to share, sell and trade.
Waste2No plays in to the community feeling, of sharing things with people in your environment. It is an app where you can point out the things you can miss by scanning them and putting them in the object cloud. Consequently, people in your close vicinity do the same and when you need something you can look up through the app if people around you might be able to lend it to you. I liked this project very much having in mind the enormous amount of waste people produce. From my own obsession with recycling, I could only cheer for this project as not only do we prevent ourselves from buying everything, it will also increase the connections within a neighbourhood.

This project aims to map ‘owners’ on the internet. Where are the control nodes of the service used by thousands of global citizens.
An Amsterdam based project that gives workshops on how the internet works. They for example teach children on how the network functions and ask critical questions such as:”Is the internet only turned off in a little circle, or in the whole country?” If there is still connectivity you can use that still to communicate. An important asset as we are ever more exposed to the Internet and more dependent of technology. Asking critical questions can’t start early enough and is done way too little!

As I mentioned earlier, there were many many more projects but I will keep the amount to be discussed here limited.

The second day was important for us as we would meet up with several people from the cartography group. As the schedule of Cultura Digital was quite chaotic despite the strict time schedules, we noticed that many of our ‘colleagues’ were as lost as we were. Eventually we decided to make our own network meetup and had a long and useful talk with Breno and Mariana, two members of a group called Mapas de Vista, an app in order to map on CMS systems such as Drupal and WordPress. After a short presentation of Leo, the more technical expert behind the system he got us convinced and in only a few mouse clicks, we destroyed our whole website. Obviously, as it was supposed to be a simple operation, it always turns out be not so simple in the end. Luckily, we were in the presence of the right people and were able to install the website the right way eventually. Even though not nearly finished yet, please feel free to have a peek at our new website:

After that, all participants were invited to have a look in IPE, at Morro da Conceiçao, a digital culture space with a political notion. After a tour in a beautiful part of Rio, we were treated with a performance by a theater group treating gender topics amongst others.


The final day then, we were scheduled for a presentation that got completely on the background of all the interesting things to do. We spend the whole morning editing but managed to complete it at the due time. Unfortunately our attempt to upload it ended up a little buggy, but we’ll try soon again. Ellen prepared a last minute Portuguese presentation informing about our project Dreammachine.
And as we haven’t been updating you much lately, this is shortly what it’s about:
Our aim is to visualize dreams of youngsters in order to make them think out of the box. Not only do we believe dreaming is great and necessary to get yourself inspired to achieve things, at the same time we want to challenge them to use new techniques such as video and photo editing. Our experiences so far, in the Netherlands are that many of the kids still remain dreaming in terms of work and that only few talk about becoming happy. As well money seemed to be an important issue for many of the kids (often from Moroccan and Turkish descent).

The gran finale of Festival Cultura Digital was the arrival of old minister of Culture Gilberto Gil. Although I often don’t feel much for ‘the famous’ I caught myself laughing sheepishly as mister Gil patted me friendly on the back. A proud feeling of our first festival as map:m()b duo.




14 November 2011

Brazil: Forced evictions must not mar Rio Olympics

Olympic organizers must urge Brazilian authorities to stop forcibly evicting hundreds of families across Rio de Janeiro amid preparations for the summer 2016 Summer Olympic Games, residents’ groups, local housing activists, Amnesty International and WITNESS said today in a joint letter to the International Olympic Committee (IOC). 

The organizations said that families in dozens of the city’s low-income areas have lost or are at risk of losing their homes as the authorities build infrastructure for the international sporting event.

“Forcing families out of their homes without adequate notice, prior consultation with those affected and without offering adequate alternative housing or provision of legal remedies flies in the face of the very values the Olympics stand for, and violates Brazil’s laws and international human rights commitments,” said the organizations.

“The Olympic organizers should use their influence to put an end to this practice now, before it’s too late. The IOC must not be complicit with human rights abuses carried out in its name, and should publicly and unequivocally condemn all forced evictions in Rio de Janeiro.”

Favelas and informal settlements around the city have already been affected over the past year and more are slated for future planned evictions by the authorities. 

Key infrastructural works, such as the construction of three express bus lanes (the TransOeste, the TransCarioca and the TransOlímpica), works around the Maracanã stadium and the modernization of the port area have already led to serious violations. As these works continue, several communities – including Vila Autodromo and Arroio Pavuna – are now fighting imminent eviction.

Although Rio de Janeiro’s officials maintain that no forced evictions have been conducted and that all families are being appropriately compensated before losing their homes, independent research by local NGOs, Rio de Janeiro’s Public Defenders’ Office and international organisations including Amnesty International and WITNESS has proven otherwise.

In the gravest cases, the authorities have arrived in a community without prior notice and begun tearing down homes and businesses.

On 22 October 2010, bulldozers arrived at the Restinga community and began demolishing homes and small shops that had operated in the area for more than 20 years.

Edilson, a Restinga resident, described the operation:
“At 10am there were machines, police officers, riot forces with large weapons and they started emptying out the houses. If someone refused to leave they would take the bulldozer and start breaking down the door. The officers would come into your house, take you out by force and then demolish it.”

Many of the families that used to live and work in Restinga have since lost their jobs and sources of income, while children from the community have been unable to transfer to new schools, resulting in months of missed education.

Former community residents have not received adequate compensation or suitable alternative housing, violating international human rights standards.

This pattern of abuse has been repeated in other communities over the past year, with authorities often putting pressure on residents for months on end to accept sub-standard offers instead of following procedural and legal safeguards before evictions take place. The harassment is seen as a tactic to coax families to relocate in most cases to remote areas, far from their jobs, schools and community.
The situation became so severe earlier this year that the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Raquel Rolnik, intervened to demand that the Brazilian government “stop planned evictions until dialogue and negotiation can be ensured”.

“We recognize that Rio de Janeiro’s authorities need to install adequate infrastructure to ensure the success and safety of the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics,” said the organizations.

“But this must be carried out in a spirit of consultation and collaboration with the affected communities, to ensure that their rights are protected in the process.”

For a full copy of the letter, please see: letter to IOC Nov 2011.pdf

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.

Two weeks in Rio, of which one week Carnaval so that doesn’t really count as a week, already learned me a lot about a drastically changing everyday life in this marvellous city. As the UPPs (the pacifying police) are my object of study I am of course referring to the changes in relation to this pacification project. However, the general idea of “organising the city” goes way beyond the pacification of the favelas.

I haven’t yet had the time to make up my mind, to think about the things I hear and see and to draw relevant conclusions from the information I got. That’s why I am writing this blog.

The first days I was staying at a friend’s place in Ipanema – Zona Sul, the elitist, touristy and rich part of the city. He told me how the city has changed in the last couple of years. Not only had violence decreased drastically and was Rio becoming much safer, the city increasingly becomes “organised”. I used to like the Brazilian bus driver’s mentality because they let you in the bus even when there’s no bus stop. They wait for you when you’re late and running to get the bus that is about to leave. Today, they don’t do that anymore. They have a strict time schedule to stick to. Of course, for the public transport system to work this is necessary.

Another situation was yesterday when I was waiting for my friend to pick me up from the subway station. It took a little while so I was walking around the station, kind of bored. This guy who was selling home made coconut candy came to me and gave me one, to try. I liked it and bought some and we started chatting. He told me how he got kicked out of another subway station by the guards as he didn’t have a licence to sell food. Up until recently he didn’t need such a licence. The same goes for vendors of snacks and beer walking down Ipanema and Copacabana beach. And the “ugly” beach stands selling caipirinhas, beer and coconut water are replaced by cleaner and better looking bars with terraces and toilets. Places that sell food and drinks must provide bathrooms as well.

Two Germans I met told me how they were having a sandwich in the botanic garden when a guard politely asked them to have their picnic at the “picnic area”. They complained: “but that’s what we use to like about Brazil”.

These are small, but in my view, significant changes in the mentality of a “País Tropical”. Some people like it: “finally our country starts to function”, others don’t: “a country has to be disorganised, we should not take Europe as an example”. The UPP police and the “Peace Forces” are other examples of the organisation of places considered “disorganised” in order to increase security and order in the city.

Some examples of changes in the pacified favelas are an elevator in Cantagalo. Those favela residents living at the top of the hill no longer need to climb the endless stairs (Note that favelas are usually built on hills). In Providência, down town, a resident told me that they want to construct a little train that goes up the hill. In Complexo do Alemão, the complex of 14 communities that has been occupied since November last year they built a cable car connecting these communities. In some cases houses have to make way for these installations. Also, houses at risk of collapsing are demolished. The residents of these houses are replaced to new apartments blocks. This all results in some contrasting architectural cases. Big colourful and new buildings right next to simple and small houses or sometimes even huts.

(See yellow building – cable car station – on top of the hill.)

The above I found particularly interesting because I came to Brazil to investigate the UPP in terms of territoriality and the claiming of these areas by the state. The Brazilian state has been absent in these communities for decades and now tries to obtain power. Through “pacification” these favelas can and will be organised, which will allow the inclusion of these communities into the bureaucratic processes of the state. Interesting, I think, is how the state does this. What new rules and processes are used by the state in this attempt to increase power and control over these areas? In this light, the above examples show how this process is going on in the entire city, and not only in the pacified favelas. The latter are part of and reflect a larger process of organisation. The the coming weeks I will go deeper into the changes and consequences of the pacification. What does it mean? What does it change? How does the pacification of these particular areas paves the way for development?

Bad luck bus

Posted: February 22, 2009 by Fei An in South America
Tags: , , , ,

Leaving behind all the the bus trouble in Brazil – Fei sleeping trough her bus stop while Ellen was desperately running around the terminal, asking all the Chinese looking people if they had seen her; practicing our theater skills by pretending we really thought our departure time was at 16:30 instead of 15:30 when we arrived late at the bus station – we wanted to start fresh in Argentina.

That was a bit optimistic…

To take revenge on Fei, Ellens bus decided to arrive about 10 hours late to let Fei know how it feels to wait in desperation. While waiting, Fei and Rian thought it would be practical to buy bus tickets for the next day to Mendoza. Luckily, after finding out that most of the buses where already fully booked, a very young and helpful Gaucho arranged some tickets for us. Thank god, we could leave tomorrow!!

That was a bit optimistic…

Besides being young and helpful, unfortunately he was also very clumsy… While he was busy talking to his MSN-boyfriend, he put the wrong date on our bus ticket. When we arrived the next day, ready and steady for a 20 hour bus trip, we found out that we were ought to leave the day before. And of course the boy was gone.

We cried and begged – because that helps in Brazil – but they didn’t fall for our drama in Argentina. Or was it because this time there was a woman ‘helping’ us? Anyway, people here seem to be more interested in MSN Messenger service than customer service.

Even doing the whole show again in front of a guy didn’t help us this time. We had to buy new tickets to be on crappy seats at 22:00 o’clock that evening. Remembering the nice road stations in Brazil we forgot about all the stress and started to get excited for our first bus stop dinner.

That was way too optimistic!

The next day we couldn’t get off the bus anymore as we were all starved and dried out. The bus didn’t stop once. Luckily, Mendoza is famous for wine and good food, so we decided that we deserved a huge lunch. Dried out, we already ordered a bottle of good wine and Ellen was drunk in 10 minutes. It was the best lunch ever.

We learned our lesson and the next bus trip we were fully equipped with six bags full of groceries. While enjoying our own dinner at about 21:00, the conductor started to hand out complete meals. This time we left the bus with a filled stomach so we could handle the temperature shock in Patagonia.