Street art has changed the São Mateus community
Favela Galeria São Paulo street art

Street art has changed the São Mateus community

All photos by Austin Audru

On the east side of São Paulo is a neighborhood which was once rife with trouble. São Mateus lacked funding from the government and had absolutely no cultural centers, cinemas, of any kind of gallery, according to the city’s ‘Map of Inequality’ – a study elaborated by NGO Nossa São Paulo. That was until the OPNI street art collective began transforming the neighborhood itself into an art gallery.

OPNI is a graffiti group founded by two brothers, Toddy and Val, in the late 1990s. The acronym stands for “Unidentified tagging object,” a play on OVNI, the way UFO is written in Portuguese. The name is a reference to the fact that people involved in graffiti in São Paulo must lay low and hide from police, and also that São Mateus and its residents are ‘invisible’ to the government.

In 2009, the group developed an initiative called Favela Galeria. “This place used to be the very worst,” says Raul Rodrigues, one of the organizers behind Favela Galeria. “Lots of drugs, lots of crime. The government didn’t care.”

The idea behind Favela Galeria was to transform this abandoned neighborhood and start a  movement in the community to challenge racial stereotypes and change the residents’ self-esteem. Houses would give their walls over to graffiti artists who covered them with murals to engage and brighten the community with color.

Favela Galeria São Paulo

Favela Galeria São Paulo

Changing people’s perspectives

“We bring art and we believe it changes people’s lives,” says Rodrigues, going on to recall that in the beginning, Favela Galeria was only about painting walls. They have since created a physical space, where they teach youngsters about graffiti and social engagement.

At the Favela Galeria “headquarters,” so to speak, several books by local artists are put on sale, along with prints and paintings. There are workshops, such as free graffiti lessons, and informative seminars. All of the proceeds are funneled back into the space and the community.

Favela Galeria São Paulo

Favela Galeria São Paulo

Street art in São Mateus

Elisa Cardoso, a school teacher, said it is important to expose children to different types of art in the area because “they recognize themselves and their neighborhood.” Cardoso says the children feel pride when they see their street and their house with a new perspective.

Favela Galeria São Paulo street art

By the way, forget about the stereotype of people painting unauthorized graffiti. Favela Galeria is only present in houses and buildings where the owner has authorized the artwork. In 2016, the project received an honorable mention for the Almerinda Farias Gama Award by the official São Paulo Gazette.

Favela Galeria São Paulo street art

The neighborhood still faces challenges with crime, but with members of the community contributing their work and sharing their knowledge, it has planted the seeds for a better future.

For more pictures of their work, follow them on Instagram.

Favela Galeria São Paulo street art

Favela Galeria São Paulo street art

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SocietyJun 24, 2018

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BY Austin Andru

Austin works as an intern, under the supervision of Gustavo Ribeiro.