The Grey City's Grey Area: Exploring the practice of graffiti, official intervention, and public opinion in Sao Paulo

Authors: Karyn Medina*, University of California - Davis
Topics: Cultural Geography, Latin America, Urban Geography
Keywords: public space, graffiti, street art, place making, urban intervention, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Governors Square 17, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Sometimes referred to as the Grey City for the thousands of concrete high-rise buildings that dominate the city’s center, Sao Paulo is also well known for the abundant graffiti murals that bring bursts of color and creativity to the otherwise monochromatic visual landscape. In fact, the graffiti has become such an integral part of the city’s urban imaginary that the heavily graffitied Beco do Batman frequently appears on lists of must see tourist destinations. However, the place of graffiti as part of Sao Paulo’s visual landscape is contentious. The overwhelming majority of Paulistanos (residents of Sao Paulo) have a favorable view graffiti, while the city’s official response is complicated ranging from campaigns to erase graffiti to commissioning large-scale graffiti murals, and is heavily dependent on who holds the office of the mayor. Incidents where the legal erasure of graffiti led to public outcry show that legality is not the most important consideration when altering the visual landscape.
Based on ethnographic fieldwork, this paper examines the graffiti in Sao Paulo, Brazil in order to understand what graffiti and street can tell us about which symbols and aesthetics are deemed acceptable for visual landscape of the city. I argue that the public perception of cultural and artistic value is more important than official laws when graffiti painting is concerned. Furthermore, the Brazilian concept of jeitinho blurs lines between what is legal, and what is acceptable.

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