“The reality is that if we waited to gain permission to paint, Pixação would never exist. Artistic intervention is born out of necessity, and the only way to make ourselves heard is through attacking those boundaries between public and private space.” -Cripta Djan
Last weekend, while most of the Yale community was watching the Super Bowl, or else tucked away in their favorite Sunday-evening study carrel, I settled into a dark auditorium in Yale’s Loria Center for the History of Art for “Performing São Paulo: Pixação and Contemporary Art.” The screening and panel discussion, organized by Alina Aksiyote, BK ’16, opened an intriguing dialogue about the art of modern cities, and the surrounding politics of inclusion and exclusion.
The event began with the 2014 documentary Pixadores in what was the film’s inaugural screening in the United States, and then moved into a panel discussion about Pixação, a radical art form engaged in by street artists—or pixadores—in São Paulo, Brazil. The film was made by Amir Escandari, a filmmaker from Finland who encountered pixador Cripta Djan while visiting São Paulo and became transfixed by Pixação. Following Cripta Djan and the group of pixadores (of which Djan is the spokesperson and leader), the film carries its audience from the dark streets of São Paulo to a Berlin arts conference and back, as public interest about Pixação grew.
Pixação is transgressive: pixadores paint illegally on the tallest buildings in the center of São Paulo. They spray paint their names in complexly drawn runic scripts. A sense of urgency permeates the spirit of Pixação—as well as a remarkable discipline and organization.
The film, Pixadores, is as aesthetically intriguing as the Pixação itself. It’s full of black and white shots of the city of São Paulo, paired with frank depictions of the gritty lives of the pixadores, and the risky and striking nature of their art. But there are risks, too, of romanticizing Pixação, and the documentary at times came close to doing so. The desperation and poverty that is present in the favelas—where many of the pixadores live—is a messy reality. And Pixação, as shown in the film, is in some ways violently masculine: the women in the film are presented as little more than wives, making cameos only to cook or care for their children.
These critiques, and others, were discussed in a panel after the movie, as audience members asked questions of and engaged with the panelists. The discussion featured Cripta Djan himself, filmmaker Amir Escandari, and São Paolo art consultant Joao Correia as well as art historian Debora Faccion.
Faccion detailed the history of Pixação, tracing it back to the late 80s amidst political turmoil in Brazil. Unlike multi-color, image-based graffiti in the style of New York City, which was legalized in São Paulo, illegal Pixação is text alone—black letters against a concrete background.
Aksiyote, the student who organized the event, met Cripta Djan during her semester abroad in São Paulo, and has maintained a relationship with him. Alina coordinated the screening and panel with the collaboration of the Yale Society for Performance Ecology, and with the sponsorship of Emerging Collective, a New York based arts nonprofit. Alina told me afterwards, “I wanted to bring Djan to Yale because he wanted to come. He and other pixadores were excited by the thought of bringing their voices from the periphery to the center. Sometimes we forget just how much Yale is at the center, and what a privilege that is.”