Haas and Hahn Are Painting the Favelas

Santa Marta

Sao Paolo, Brazil

The Favelas in Rio de Janeiro are not necessarily the first place you would expect to see world-class artists strutting their stuff. This is exactly what makes it the perfect place for Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn (of the collective Haas & Hahn) to implement their project ‘Favela Painting’.

The Favelas are both one of the most dangerous and forgotten neighborhoods in the world. The Favelas were formed in Rio in the 18th century as a way to separate former slaves from the downtown area. In the 1970s, the Favelas began to look and feel as they do now after many of Brazil’s rural population moved to the city and found no place to live.

Almost all of the Favelas in Rio de Janeiro are built on hillsides. Since there is very little surface area to build on, the houses are stacked one on top of the other, creating a unique architecture. The Favelas are known for being extremely dangerous as they are also deeply associated with gangs and drug violence. The neighborhoods have entered American consciousness in movies like Cidade de Deus (though the real “City of God” is technically not a Favela and actually a governmental response to them that has become overrun with crime) as well as through Diplo’s foray the Favelan music scene.

Haas and Hahn came up with the basic idea in early 2006. It started out as a very simple yet poignant idea. Transform these bleak and run-down neighborhoods into colorful expressions of joy and use the occupants from the area to help do it. Using local youth to aid in painting the murals gives them job opportunities, an art education, and a sense of pride in their neighborhood they might not have had before. It also helps jumpstart the concept into the next generation.

Haas & Hahn claim this project’s purpose is not to hide the neighborhoods, but to embrace and beautify them. The use of bright colors is a loud and expressive statement to fellow inhabitants of the neighborhoods, as well as the rest of the world. All of the pieces were designed and implemented with feedback and participation from the community within the immediate vicinity of their location. The piece titled ‘O Morro’ is the latest completed mural and spans across 34 houses. It took a month to complete and in the process gave about 20 people a job, as well as formal training on how to paint a variety of surfaces. The colorful, radiating lines are designed to expand as the neighborhood inevitably grows with one house on top of another.

Haas & Hahn’s Favela Painting project is an inspirational idea resulting in a paradigm shift in how the neighborhood views itself. Hopefully it can cause one in how the world views the neighborhood.

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