By Felicity Clarke, Senior Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – By all accounts, Rio is an outdoor city with a striking visual character. No other place looks quite like it and what with its open air culture and shameless physical beauty, it is probably fitting that the most urgent artistic expression in the city can be found on its walls.
From Santa Teresa to Complexo do Alemão, art claims its own public space in a realm officially lorded over by international advertising bosses. Until August 8th, though, street art in Rio finds its home in a gallery space with the second edition of the Parede International Festival of Rio de Janeiro Poster Art at Centro Cultural Justiça Federal.
Created by artist Eduardo Denne and curator Marco Antonio Teobaldo, “Parede” (which means “wall” in Portuguese) is the only event dedicated to poster art culture in Brazil and brings together work from international artists in a hugely eclectic display of counter-culture art.
Taking over the first floor of the Centro Cultural Justiça Federal, “Parede” is unlike the any other exhibition you’re likely to see. Easing you in, the first room holds an introductory text and video works of Brazilian street art in action, before a thrillingly immersing onslaught of image and text hits the visitor.
Three large rooms are given over in their entirety to a frenzy of paint, paper and glue. Newspaper surfaces scream with slogans, stencils and fluoro-rainbow images. It’s messy, it’s confusing and it’s brilliant. For example, we’re told that “Parede 2010” presents work by street artists from the UK, Holland and Germany, but the patchwork wallpaper presentation is such that no artist is identified with a neat artist/title/date label. Instead, the works merge into an intense attack of vibrant urban art, the anonymity of which is in keeping with the real life practice of the genre.
Adjusting the eyes, individual works come into focus with a mutant killer burger against a candy cane background, Brazil color-coded Warhol soup cans and a receding psychedelic Virgin Mary all dancing into the line of vision.
Just as advertising can be characterized by slogans, so too can its artistic subversion; much of the poster art in “Parede” plays with text, be it a discreet R$100 note doctored to read “sem reais” (rather than “cem”, “one hundred”), to the defiant block capital “Yo Soy Favela” accompaniment to a photo of a kid pulling his face and rudely gesturing at the camera.
The various rooms are filled with entertaining viewing – refreshingly unpretentious and colorful creativity with a fun D.I.Y aesthetic. On a deeper level, a lot of the interplay between text and image contains critical, if not overtly political, commentary with references to consumer culture, public space and the environment all appearing either explicitly or implicitly in the work.
As well as the three wallpaper rooms, one is used in a more traditional way to showcase the work of São Paulo street artist Ozi Duarte. With over 25 years involvement, Ozi is a veteran of the São Paulo scene and considered one of Brazil’s foremost street artists. His bright, bold poster works are framed for individual consideration in the final room of the exhibition.
With workshops and debates including a ‘Justice and Thought’ discussion on art and the public space, “Parede” hopes to open up a dialogue on the controversial issues surrounding urban art as well as promoting the work.
The Centro Cultural Justica Federal is an interesting venue for this kind of festival. With its dark colonial grandeur and establishment status, it is an awkward setting for street art, producing the feeling of an elderly Lord entertaining a group of feisty, loud city kids in his stately home.
But taken out of its natural setting and artificially presented in a gallery, the exciting poster art in the exhibition inspires fresh contemplation of both these works and indeed all the visual messages in the urban landscape around us. In Rio, there’s certainly a lot to look at, whatever your perspective.