By Megan Ferringer, Rotary staff
São Paulo feels like a museum of modernism. A single iconic image of the city might be a cityscape of endless towers fading into the horizon, or a photo of luxurious high-rise apartment blocks with pools and exotic flora on their terraces, all set against the favelas and their red roofs.
Despite its size, its density, and its growing wealth, São Paulo can fail to feel like a city at all. At street level, it instead feels like an endless collection of compounds. There are malls and offices, guarded apartment blocks behind heavy electric gates, and villa complexes behind high walls.
But on those walls is inscribed the creative pulse of the city’s streets. São Paulo is rich with graffiti — some seductive, some political, some with seemingly no point of view. Tunnels are recast in psychedelic hues, anime-type characters, and pichação, the cryptic graffiti form reminiscent of ancient runic writing. Even highway overpasses and impossible-to-reach floors of abandoned buildings bear some sort of artist’s markings. The graffiti has replaced the visual clutter of billboards (they were banned in 2007) with a more bottom-up expression as walls are turned into creative canvasses. All these attributes combine to give São Paulo’s disconnected public space a special character.
A short walk from the Anhembi Parque Convention Center, you’ll see a set of 66 spray-painted panels installed on the pillars that sustain the high section of the Metrô rail. Directly south of the Santana Station and located along the median of Av. Cruzerio do Sul, artists have found a home for their work at the Museu Aberto de Arte Urbana, one of Brazil’s first open-air graffiti museums. Curators Binho Ribeiro and Chivitz started the museum in 2011 and received the support of city officials. Artists were given permission to paint calmly and freely without any trouble. Every year, the curators swap out paintings, inviting artists to spend weeks creating a new experience for passersby.
The museum is one of the many reasons São Paulo is turning into a colorful bohemian playground for artists, performers, and revelers. To really get to know São Paulo would take years of exploration, but for a small taste of what this city is all about, the Museu Aberto de Arte Urbana is a must-see.