Derived from heavy metal music book comprises, Sao Paulos peculiar street writing is rooted in a desire to protest against inequality in Brazils largest metropoli. But some pixadores now fear their work is being sold out

If Brazil “re not for” rookies, as the composer Antonio Carlos Jobim formerly said, then very great urban centre, Sao Paulo, is certainly not for the swooning of soul. Its not just the noisy streets, situations of extreme socio-economic inequality, the vacated buildings and the drug addicts prowling notorious Cracolandia that present my house metropoli its rough perimeters. Its what is written on the walls, too.

There is thick-skulled pitch-black cover on almost every wall or facade here. When my photographer friend Pablo Lopez Luz came to visit, it was the first thing that caught his eye: Whats with all the graffiti? he requested. Its not graffiti, I responded, its pixacao .

At first sight, it is difficult to tell the two styles apart, but there are important differences. In the case of graffiti be it labelling or bombing the letters are rounder and more stylised thanks to the voluminous usage of blending, colors and other proficiencies. Colour is another important element: the brighter the better in most cases, in likeness and anatomies too.

By contrast pixadores , as practitioners are called,( sometimes spelled pichadores ) seldom generate visuals, merely letters. Their ubiquitous calligraphy is composed of straight lines and sharp-witted perimeters, leaving their initiations pixos a jagged examine. They are also primarily pitch-black( the verb pichar in Portuguese means to cover with tar ). But just because pixos are monochromatic and little stylised does not mean they lack biography or socio-cultural significance.


There are more than 5,000 active pixadores in Sao Paulo now. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

The use of Sao Paulos metropoli walls as a canvas is not new. In the 1930 s, political candidates wrote expedition mottoes all over them. By the late 1960 s, when students took to the streets to singer their difference against Brazils military government, spray painting phrases such as abaixo a ditatura ( down with the totalitarianism) on the walls of public buildings became an important routine of protest.

The style we now identify with pixacao firstly emerged in Sao Paulo in the 1980 s. Politically, the country was experiencing a gradual transition to democracy, but politics werent the only occasion on the mind of Sao Paulos youth so was heavy metal.

The musical genre that developed in the UK and US gained a strong following in Sao Paulo. In addition to the brute force of circles such as Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, AC/ DC and Metallica, Paulistano youths were also attracted to their book envelops including with regard to, the runic-inspired typeface these circles used to label themselves.

In genuine Brazilian pattern, youths in Sao Paulo cannibalised this foreign practice. Thus inaugurated the process of developing this citys peculiar pixacao: a mode of city writing that has inspired numerous pixadores to come up with their own deviations on this kind of calligraphy according to one reckon, there are more than 5,000 active pixadores in Sao Paulo alone.

At its most basic stage, pixacao is about pride, renown and self-promotion, which is why the vast majority of pixos are either personal monikers or the names of particular griffes ( collectives ). Fame in the world of pixacao is primarily a numbers game so much better so that seasoned pixadores boast about having left their observe on nearly every wall of the city. Currently, one of Sao Paulos most famous and prolific pixadores goes by the name RAPDOS, a modification on the word rapido .


In the most basic sort of pixacao, persona de chao , both the targets and risks is relatively small. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

Pixacao is also about visibility, particularly the manner that can only be achieved through daring acts of gallantry. In its most basic sort, persona de chao or sidewalk cruising, the targets are walls and the risk are low although it is still a criminal offence that carries a potential prison term.

The more extreme form is janela de predio ( improving space ), for which success is measured in terms of meridian. Pixadores often in units of two clamber a buildings facade by grabbing on to its space steps and plucking themselves up, floor by floor, leaving their pixos as they go up. Rooftop pixos require guts and the right equipment pitch-black ink and a cover roller attached to a broomstick but sometimes thats not enough, and to extend their reach, pixadores have to hang their own bodies over the ceiling ledge.

These daring deeds, nonetheless, do not come close to escalada , or buildering, whereby pixadores scale the outside of a building by hampering on to its external surge arrester cable. This is a particularly perilous way to climb a construct considering that the clamps used to fix this cable onto the facade are not built to withstand the heavines of a person. To acquire substances worse, escaladas are implemented at night by a lone pixador.

Not astonishingly, collisions are common and sometimes lethal. But for the adrenaline-seeking pixador, the pay-off is worth the risk. By scaling the building in such a way, they can access large sections of a facade that have never been touched by another pixador. This various kinds of real estate is hard to come by in Sao Paulo, and nearly impossible for those who stick to persona de chao and janela de predio , where the competitor for opening is stiff.


In most extreme species, success is measured by meridian. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

Aside from renown, visibility and adrenaline, the most important reason for pixadores is rage primarily directed against the city. Unlike graffiti( which numerous pixadores repudiate as being too commercial and a beautification programme ), pixacao seeks to positively degrade the urban settings. As one pixador applied it, pixacao is an assault on the city.

This hostile relationship is ingrained in the very communication of pixacao. For instance, pixadores never use the expression cover or spraying. Instead, they opt arrebentar , detonar or escancarar ( bang, blow-up and destroy ). Some typical pixador monikers restate as startle, neurosis, extinction, fright, nightmare, danger and nocturnal onslaught.

This anger towards the city is much more than teenage bravado or boyish violence. It is rooted in a sense of social unfairnes that is intrinsically connected with the pattern of uneven urbanisation that began in the 1940 s and continues today. Seeking to remake Sao Paulo into a modern metropoli, society reformers and boosters of the 1940 s and 50 s embarked on ambitious urban renewal projects. In addition to infrastructural progress, a street enlarging program, construction sites of a massive city common( Parque Ibirapuera) and other beautification projects, the main feature of Sao Paulos urban renewal was its modernist skyscrapers.

Fuelled by easy recognition, ambitious developers and aspirations for a New York-style skyline, Sao Paulo suffered an extraordinary construct boom in the immediate postwar age. Some of the citys best known modernist buildings date back to this period, including David Libeskinds Conjunto Nacional, Franz Heeps Edificio Italia, and Oscars Niemeyers iconic S-shaped Copan construct.

But while such urban renewal projects may have benefited better-off Paulistanos who lived and acted in and around downtown Sao Paulo, they had an adverse effect on the lives of the citys working-class inhabitants. To change Sao Paulo into the modern metropoli imagined, large portions were demolished, especially the obsolete buildings located in the downtown province colonized by the working poor. Unable to find affordable house in and around downtown, working-class Paulistanos were leave behind two bad options: assemble the city poor in one of the citys proliferating favelas, or relocate to the boundary. Most preferred the periphery.

Life there was, and still is, objection. Far from Sao Paulos downtown province where most enterprises are centred, peripheral neighbourhoods likewise shortage the basic community service associated with modern city living, including a proper sewage system, loping liquid, paved superhighways, electricity, infirmaries and institutions. One early occupant described living in the boundary as like living in the wilderness. As a answer, Sao Paulo made the honour of represent one of “the worlds” most unequal metropolis, divided between the haves of “the centres activities” and the have-nots of the periphery.

The anger that pixadores felt and still feel towards the city should be understood in the context of this uneven blueprint of urban development. In the words of a well-known pixador, Pixacao is a reflection of the absence of the state in living conditions of that person who decided to become a pixador. It is no coincidence that the vast majority of pixadores hail from Sao Paulos peripheral neighbourhoods and, just as important, that their preferred targets tend to be the centrally located modernist buildings especially those designed by famed architects.


Pixadores have also targeted historic sites such as the Ramos de Azevedo fountain in downtown Sao Paulo. Photograph: Pablo Lopez Luz

In recent years, pixadores have targeted icons of Sao Paulos modernism, including the Wilton Paes de Almeida construct and Niemeyers famed pavilion located inside Ibirapuera Park. Pixadores have also darkened places that are part of the citys historic patrimony, including the Ramos de Azevedo fountain in downtown Sao Paulo. The more sacred the site, the most attractive it is as a target for their pixos.

Many pixadores approach their ship in terms of politics. As one pixador applied it in a recent film by Joao Wainer, We perform class warfare. Others are more romantic, said he hopes that their pixos, by darkening the look of the more privileged the matter of the city, will encourage better-off Paulistanos to reflect on the way working-class inhabitants live especially those in the periphery.

Unsurprisingly, nonetheless, the commonly used reaction to a wall full of pixos is resentment. To metropoli public officials and the victims of such pixacao, pixadores are vandals whose initiations which one observer referred to as an city beset must be eradicated at all cost.

Local authorities and inhabitants have been engaged in a battle to stanch the flow of pixacao since the early 1980 s, when these best practices firstly developed. Yet despite hi-tech security cameras, neighbourhood watch radicals, police bullying, draconian laws and a special hygienic section within the city government dedicated to covering up pixos, pixacao is more popular and pervasive in Sao Paulo today than ever before.

As any pixador will tell you, illegality is what preserves pixacao fresh and what distinguished from graffiti( which is not systematically illegal ). In recent years, as graffiti artists from Sao Paulo such as Osgemeos have begun to attract international disrepute with major shows at the Tate Gallery in London and other venues legislators in Sao Paulo have become more tolerant of graffiti, and even proud of its neighbourhood springs. Pixacao, on the other hand, continues exclusively illegal and pixadores continue to rodar ( jargon for going to jail ).

The citys authorities may be no competition for pixacao, but there are signs that the market powers that have co-opted graffiti and altered it into an acceptable city saying now hope to do the same with pixacao. Pixacao and the image of the pixador as a subversive flesh has already been appropriated by such international labels as Puma to sell their apparel. A pixacao-inspired font, Adrenalina, is also possible downloaded for US $25 and, in 2012, the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art invited a group of pixadores to make an artistic intervention.

While some pixadores have hugged the idea of selling pixacao as a lawful art sort, others are much more critical. In recent years, one group has invaded a number of art galleries in Sao Paulos hippest neighbourhoods “thats been” exhibiting( and exchanging) projects by pixadores and photographs of pixos. In an routine of demonstration, they covered all the bits with pitch-black ink and painted mottoes such as sell-out and the street does not need you. For these pixadores, ensuring that pixacao remains a marginal saying of the city boundary as opposed to a marketable commodity is essential to its very survival.

Marcio Siwi is a PhD nominee in biography at New York University whose piece inquires post-war urban development and cultural production in Sao Paulo and New York .

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