Entering Rio de
Janeiro at night is deceiving. The vibrant city is gorgeous after dark but its
spirit is muted. During the day in the Centro and Southern (Zona Sul)
neighborhoods, color and pattern are everywhere, from bright clothing and
rhinestones embellishments, to sidewalks along the beaches with their
undulating stonework and the iconic, stone pinnacles covered in lush greens
that soar above the bays. A gallery of murals and tile work really gets to the
heart of the city. Rio’s walls tell startling stories. For the uninitiated it’s
a surprise. While most urban areas spend millions to remove graffiti, Brazil
has elevated it to a completely different level.
passed a law in 2009 that made street art and graffiti legal if done with the
consent of building owners. It sounds progressive but may have been the best
way to handle a movement that showed no signs of abating. Ten years earlier,
Rio brought together 35 graffiti artists to showcase their local styles for the
1999 “Nao pixe, grafite” (Don’t tag, Graffiti) project. Currently the city’s proudest
graffiti artists sign their work or add Facebook sites.
murals and small illustrations pepper neighborhoods. Rio’s urban art can
transform them as well. Such is the case with the Chilean tile artist and
painter, Jorge Selaron, who took a staircase straddling the Lama and Santa
Teresa districts and turned it from a dodgy district into a treasured site and
subsequent tourist destination.
After making Rio
his home, Selaron lived adjacent to the stairs and began scavenging tiles from
construction sites and refuse. Soon he was tirelessly embellishing the steps
and walls between Joaquim Silva and Pinto Martins Streets. First ridiculed, his
vision soon had people donating tiles from around the world and he also added
several featuring his most famous icon – an image with his face and handlebar
mustache attached to a pregnant woman’s torso.
Today tour buses
and visitor maps bring crowds to the Escadaria Selaron, the Selaron Stairs, daily.
It’s also been featured in music videos by the likes of Snoop Dogg and U2, on
hundreds of Instagram and Facebook albums and a thousand different places. If
you go, save a few minutes to hike the full length of the stairs, which have been
made into an impromptu shrine to the artist who died under suspicious
circumstances in 2013 and was made an honorary Rio resident or Carioca.
Where is your favorite piece of street art?