26 January 2011

Salve Projeto Morrinho! Salve Vic Muniz!

The complexities and contradictions of Rio never cease to amaze me.

A small figure representing traficante lookout. The M signifies
the name of a real person.
Sunday afternoon an anthropologist friend invited me to the Vila Pereira da Silva in Laranjeiras, home to the the Morrinho project. This stunning project is a mind-boggling representation of Rio’s geographic, political, and social worlds. Begun by two brothers who had recently moved to the community, the Morrinho Project has taken on impressive dimensions covering several hundred square meters of a hillside in the Vila. The youth of the community play in the projects within a set of well-defined and enforced rules. They have been able to capture some external funding, have made movies, traveled, do tours, and generally constructed a world through a super-creative geographic representation of Rio. I’m including a few photos, but check out the website for some better ones and for a more complete story. 

Of course, the realities of living in places with parallel systems of government such as drug-traffickers or milícias are not all happy. The morrinho project has plenty of elements to remind visitors that it’s not just a game and that living in a favela is not as romantic as the wave of gringos arriving to buy up real-estate would like to think. The view of the city is spectacular and I don’t know that I’ve ever met friendlier, more welcoming people.

Taking the frequently brutal realities of Rio and turning them into something beautiful is also the project of Vic Muniz in Wasteland. This documentary catalogues Muniz’s photography project in the Jardim Gramacho, Latin America’s biggest landfill where thousands of catadores comb through the collected waste of 13 million people to pull out value. The depth of the project is amazing and demonstrates the ways in which an artistic project can fully transform lives. Muniz himself came from difficult circumstances and though he is now a world famous artist, his ridiculously creative and sensitive art made my head spin. The Jardim Gramacho provides a livelihood for thousands that no-one reading these words would willingly choose for themselves, but Muniz and the filmmakers are able to show the senses of pride and identity that the catadaores have with their work. The film is playing in various parts of the USA and in Rio at Arteplex in Botafogo. This is the film that the Brazilian Film Academy has nominated to represent Brazil at the Oscars ( a rediculous situation in which only one film not of USA or British authorship can be nominated per country. Talk about cultural imperalism! There was much speculation that the crappy Lula film would be nominated. Surely Tropa do Elite II deserves a shot along with Wasteland.)

Both of these projects are strong reminders of how many different worlds exist within Rio de Janeiro and Brazil. This makes it all the more important to talk in greater depth about the flood of investments and new forms of neo-liberal arrangements that are starting to take hold of the city. I have recently heard capitalist gringos lauding the privatization of the Zona Portuaria, saying “so what?” about the intentional creation of real-estate bubbles. The media and the government are walking hand in hand towards a world created in the “world class’ [sic] image of the international tourist class. The real necessities for many millions of people in Rio de Janeiro (and Brazil) are education, sanitation, health care, functional transportation, stronger democratic institutions, transparency, places of recreation, clean water, etc. The false necessities are billion dollar stadium projects, symbolic transportation systems (bullet train), and forcible removal of the poor from their homes in order to make way for upper class condos.

Salve Projeto Morrinho! Salve Vic Muniz!

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