By John Paul Simpson, Contributing Reporter
LONDON – The Morrinho Project launched its London exhibition on July 22nd at the renowned Southbank Centre on the bank of the River Thames. Two mounds of sand, ornamented with a miniature city inspired by the architecture of Rio’s hillside comunidades (favelas) and the boroughs and iconic landmarks of London, have bridged the 10,000 kilometers separating a Rio de Janeiro favela and a south London council estate.
The Morrinho Project, now a government-recognized tourist attraction in Rio, is a model of the Favela Pereira da Silva and the hills around it in which the young artists play out their reality. Found objects such as bricks, tiles, concrete and other scraps are used to create a little world where daily life in the comunidade is imitated; from the dramas of police brutality to the baile funk dance parties. Speaking before his trip to London, co-founder Cilan de Oliveira wondered at the new heights their work has reached: “From what started as a game between two young boys to this. Nobody ever thought that this is where we would end up.”
The project has already gained international acclaim as a work of art, with a place at the Venice Biennial 2007 a highpoint amongst trips to Berlin, Vienna and Barcelona. The London project, however, is the first time the Morrinho team have worked with a group of local young people to create a shared work.
Mayra Juca of NGO Viva Rio explains that the “comunidade (Pereira da Silva) isn’t so violent and allows a circulation of people who can visit the project”. This in turn serves to alleviate mutual mistrusts between the comunidade and the city proper; “a success in a part of the city that has previously been ignored.”
So what can a group of traveling artists from one of Rio’s many impoverished hillside communities offer a group of young people from a government-run housing project in London?
The London participants, all from disadvantaged areas of Brixton and Stockwell in south London, deal daily with two issues closely related to those faced in Rio’s comunidades; drugs and guns.
Fabrice Lundamo, who was born in Congo, and has lived in Stockwell for ten years, has found life here hard. “It’s not easy because I’ve lost friends, friends have been deported, shot dead, arrested, but I keep myself to myself and that’s why I’m here.”
The finished piece, consisting of 45 tonnes of sand and 4000 bricks, is brightly colored and busy with different symbols of life in the two cultures. On one hill, a sign saying “Friendship grows like a tree” in Portuguese is signed by members of the crew, but it’s difficult to avoid the contrast of the ominous building perched on one of the hilltops bearing the words “Brixton Prison”.
Chico Serra, the Morrinho Project’s filmmaker and a member of the managing NGO, sees the shared creation as having had a strong influence on both groups. The Cariocas have brought the opportunity for the Londoners “to meet people from a poor community rich in creativity.” Adding, “It’s this that transforms their lives, the creativity is a reflection of what they do, their lifestyle and their problems too, this is what’s really interesting for the Stockwell guys.”