I had a conversation with someone who is also interning in Brasilândia today and she made the comment that she hates “these writings that are not graffiti”- they make the city dirty according to her and are ugly.
These sentiments are similar to some that my classmates on my study abroad programme had concerning pixação, sentiments which also included just simply not understanding it.
Pixação is a form of Brazilian calligraphy that features long characters with unusual strokes. There isn’t only one form of calligraphy but the art form (yes I consider it an art form) is unmistakeable wherever you see it. And if you are in São Paulo, you see it a lot. Pixadores (people who write pixação) often locate it high up- where you are unlikely to miss it and where it gets one more pride for their daring in climbing that high without any form of support (and which results in the deaths of some pixadores). So the tops of buildings, those left-over spaces between windows, are prime spots for pixadores. Pixação often features the writer’s name – their pixador artist name and their affiliated group (crew) name as well.
I first learnt about pixação before travelling to Brazil as I followed the controversy generated by a mural by Os Gemeos, an internationally acclaimed Brazilian graffiti duo, in Boston that led me to Youtube and this video about pixação. I read their mural of a boy in a cramped position lying down and with is face covered as speaking to the way of life of pixadores.
I fell in love with pixação- a love that increased when I was in São Paulo and interacting with pixação. But my pixação love often seems strange to the people I talk to. So I’ll explain it:
Pixação is uniquely Brazilian. I like graffiti and how it’s been adapted all over the world. But I appreciate deeply the home-grown nature of pixação.
Pixação is as lean an art form as the writing itself. Most pixação is written in black (ink?). It does not come with the colours associated with graffiti, which might cause people to think it ugly, but it also does not come with the cost of buying paint in all those colours.
Pixadores are often the poorest of the city. While graffiti in Sao Paulo has gained some status and acceptance within official corridors (co-opted?), pixação is still illegal. Those caught doing it may go to jail or suffer police mistreatment. So they usually work by cover of night.
“I made you look” I don’t much mind if people think pixação is ugly…it means they saw it. And by seeing pixação we are forced to acknowledge the presence of those people that often we would like to forget about. Often we traverse the city with eyes averted- never seeing the people we pass- on the streets, by the pavement, under the bridge- only looking long enough to satisfy and validate our horror. But pixação makes you look at what you might rather not, and acknowledge the presence of more than yourself. I think in a city as big as São Paulo and where the anonymity of those who are monetarily poorer is not just a threat but a reality, it is important for the city to be forced to see.
Pixação is the way São Paulo’s daring and creative but often invisible residents mark the city. And everyone needs a way to mark the city especially under the threat of invisibility. In the words of Os Pixadores in the following video: “As pessoas tem medo do que a gente tem pra dizer. Por isso a gente fala” — people are afraid of what we have to say. For this reason, we speak.