This World Cup in Brazil has a face. The face is of a child; a black child. The child’s eyes are small, but they drop large tears. His greasy elbows rest on a crooked table, fists holding a fork and a knife upright. The child howls with hunger, despite a heap sitting on the plate in front of him. The heap is a large football.
This World Cup in Brazil has a face. And an underbelly.
Depicted on a nursery school facade in the rich and cozy environs of Pompeia, a high-end district in west Sao Paulo, the weeping-child-with-a-football-on-his-plate mural (although nameless, ‘Footbawl’ could just be a fair label) has resonated with the people — the Copa’s supporters and haters alike. And ever since the image went viral seconds after it was created last month by a graffiti artist named Paulo Ito, it has been the talk of town.
“We need to show the world and ourselves that the situation is not good,” Ito is quoted as saying by the U.S. magazine Slate. Local fame follows international recognition in this country. And with worldwide publicity, the mural has turned into a quasi-shrine, attracting several daily visitors to the escola.
One such pilgrim, on a sultry Saturday afternoon, is Carlito. He scrubs his stubble in silence and then reflects Kafka.
Rich, Free, Difficult
“Great art comes from deep suffering. Which is why Brazil, and especially Sao Paulo, has such a vibrant street art scene,” he says. But isn’t Sao Paulo mostly well off, I ask, at least as compared to the rest of the country? “Yes,” he replies. “But sometimes it is easier to be in chains than to be free. Sao Paulo is rich and free. Life is difficult.”
I leave Kafka 2.0 and Ito’s vivid mural behind to search for this most unique art-form, one that is said to be inspired by the suffering born from freedom. It doesn’t take me long to find what I’m looking for. A 25-minute walk down the ridge to Vila Madalena and I’m at Beco do Batman — a hamlet that gives any art gallery in this world a run for its finest frames.
Beco do Batman, or Batman Alley, is recommended by every Paulista and is an avant-garde artist’s finest dream. The street, shaped like a horse-shoe, is laced mainly by drinking holes, eateries and studio apartments. And every square inch of every wall raised around the walkabout is covered with stencil, spray or a sweeping brush-stroke.
“We are rather loud, as you can see,” says Joao, screaming over a bunch of live jazz musicians. Loud is correct, in every sense of the word. Joao owns Bar do Meio, a jazz club. And right across his bar’s extra large front facade is an illustration of Miles Davis, playing an extra long and curvy weed-pipe instead of his usual saxophone. Next to Mr Davis is a wall with an unprintable scene concerning a transvestite.
“Take a picture,” recommends Joao. “Like our artists, our walls are ever-changing and ever-evolving. It may be painted over by something more radical tomorrow.”
Around the bend, our friend Paulo Ito makes another appearance, this time on a slightly larger canvas than the edifice of a nursery hall. On a window the size of a tennis court, he portrays a cop arresting a black man for spray-painting ‘1+1=2’ on a wall. The work is a self-parody, highlighting the pitfalls of his say-it-as-it-is profession.
Further in, the World Cup bashing continues. One print shows a grenade with the organisers’ acronym on it. Another has Neymar covered in a terrorist’s balaclava. It’s all pro anti-establishment and two fingers to society, until this occurs.
A bunch of pretty girls and boys in Brazil’s football colours jump out of a campervan and pose for selfies, with the anti-Cup slogans in the backdrop. Then, right there in the centre of Beco do Batman, they begin performing choreographed dance steps to a catchy song blaring out of a boombox. A videographer records their every move.
What on earth is going on, someone asks. “Recording the official World Cup song for our television channel,” replies the videographer. “It’s beautiful. This surrounding wall-art. Makes for a lovely background to the dancers.”
No one cared to check, but back in Pompeia, the weeping black child must have stabbed himself simultaneously with the fork and knife and died.
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