Over the last month, Praça Cantão, the square at the entrance of the community of Dona Marta was turned into a vibrant artwork of monumental scale. 34 houses on the giant hillside favela, located in the center of Rio de Janeiro, have been painted in a design of colorful rays, radiating into the city. This 7000 square meter artwork is part of the ‘Favela Painting’ project by Haas&Hahn (Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn), a project that aims to transform communities into landmarks and inspirational monuments as a part of Rio’s image, next to the statue of Christ the Redeemer and Sugar Loaf mountain.
Realization of the artwork is largely driven by the inhabitants of Dona Marta. 25 local youth have been trained as painters, providing for their own income and being responsible for turning their own neighborhood into a colorful monument. This grassroots method of working has proven to be successful in earlier projects, and gives the local community empowerment, pride and color. The local team is complemented by three painters from another favela, Vila Cruzeiro, where two of the previous projects by Haas & Hahn took place.
The project has thusfar been financed through grants and donations, but a co-operation with the dutch paint company AkzoNobel might open new doors. A meeting with their Managing Director Tex Gunning, showed they had a shared vision. “They wanted to give color to the community”, Dre recalls, “and we wanted to give art to the community. I see no reason why we cannot recreate this idea across 300 houses, 3000 houses, whether its in Rio, Johannesburg, Mumbai or anywhere in the world.”
In 2006, the Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas en Dre Urhahn conceived the idea of creating community-driven art interventions in Brazil. Named ‘Favela Painting’, their first efforts yielded two murals which were painted in Vila Cruzeiro, Rio’s most notorious slum. The first mural is entitled ‘boy with kite’ and has a surface of 150 m2. The second mural proved to be more challenging, with a surface of 2000 m2. Painted on a staircase in the heart of Vila Cruzeiro, it depicts a flowing river with Koi Carp fishes in the style of a Japanese tattoo, designed together with Rob Admiraal. The artworks for the murals are painted in collaboration with the local youth. Training and paying them as painters, learning them the tricks of the trade and empowering them by contributing to the development of the artwork. These projects received worldwide press coverage and have become points of pride both within the community and throughout Rio.
Using a grassroots-based bottom-up approach has proven to be a key factor in the success and final results. In order to generate support and approval for their activities, the artists always make the favela their home. By spending their time within the local community, they’re able to connect to their surroundings more easily, winning the hearts and minds of people. In their point of view, the inhabitants of the favela are a legitimate part of the city, but not seen that way from the outside. Using these beliefs, they work with the locals to paint the artworks, literally helping them changing the face of their community. Over the years, inhabitants of the favela’s have become aware of this method, and are actively requesting their favela to be turned into an artwork. As one woman from Vila Cruzeiro put it: ‘I’ve never been to a museum in my life, and now I’m living in one’.
Favela Painting is supported by the Firmeza Foundation in the creation of striking artworks in unexpected places. It collaborates with the local community to use art and color as a tool to inspire, create beauty, combat prejudice and attract attention. The Foundation facilitates the worldwide realisation of art interventions, and looks after their maintenance. It also develops relevant spin-off projects in the areas of education, socio-economic / social support and development of local people involved in the projects.
As of March 2010, Favela Painting has established a collaboration with AkzoNobel’s decorative paint division. Based on their mission of “adding colour to people’s lives”, AkzoNobel intends to participate in an inspiring and meaningful manner in local communities in the countries in which it operates. The objective of the cooperation between both parties is to realise worldwide, large scale “community driven” works of art. Works of art that make a colourful difference in the lives of individuals, groups, communities and cities. Works of art that have the potential of inspiring others elsewhere, that leave an indelible impression and can work as a catalyst in the processes of social renewal and change.