Por Uma Favela, Rio de Janeiro 1991

My name is Mimmo Roselli, I am an artist, a painter and I live in Florence – Italy. I am very grateful to the organization of the congress to give me the possibility to speak with you about my work and show you the project of “Por uma favela” that I carried out in Rio de Janeiro.

I also want to thank all the institutions that gave me the possibility to realize this project and above all the PUC/RIO and Prof.Irma Arestizabal, Director of Solar Grandjean de Montigny (Educational artistic centre and Art Museum of PUC/RIO).

Before explaining the theme to you, I want to tell you briefly about my work and its significance, to give you a better idea of the meaning of “Por uma favela”.

During my speech the slides on your right represent the project and on your left a few samples of my paintings on canvas. You will see that the slides of the project are not in order: I prefer to show you those in random order, to capture the sense of work.

For some years I have dedicated my work analyzing the concept of the border: I realized paintings through the maximum reduction of the pictorial material (only using the layering technique, a Renaissance technique to give prominence and delicacy to the paintings), searching for the limit of possibility in the painting’s result following the classic way of painting.

My interest has been directed towards large spaces, the “ground”, distinguished by lightness and transparency; at the same time by stratification and a great richness of details: these spaces are furrowed by signs, that cross the canvas like a walk in a vast landscape.

So that there is no loss of history, no loss of variety, no loss of complexity, even if there is an apparent absence of things represented.

The basic idea is linked to the “borderline” concept: everything that is on the border has the characteristic of being extremely unsettled. This situation has an enormous capacity, the power of changing.

With regard to that I would like to quote Josif Brodskj (preface to “Poems of Carribean” by Derek Walcott, Limited Editions Club,1983) when he says…”Since civilizations are destined to end, the moment arrive when the centre no longer holds. … Then the duty “to hold” falls on the people of the provinces, of the border. Contrary to what we usually think, the border is not the place where the world end – it is exactly where the world decants itself.”.

The model of my work considered above takes on a collective dimension through the relationship with a “borderline”environment. This gave rise to the experience of collective paintings, such as the fresco on a church wall in a Bolivian Indian’s Guaranì village, the experience in Rio de Janeiro favela that I will tell you about and the one in an old person’s home in Italy. All the experiences, although very different in their development, had the same common denominator: to have as their final goal, not only the realization of the painting, but also the human rapport between the artist and the surrounding environment.

Excuse me for this introduction, but I think it is necessary for a better understanding. Now I want to introduce you to the site of the project .

In Brazil “favela” is the name of the poorest places in the city, the “bidonville” that we see in all our most important cities. The very peculiar situation in Rio de Janeiro is that many of the “favelas” are inside the city and not in the outskirts. The “favela “ of S.Marta, where the project was carried out, is in the heart of the touristic city, between the famous Copacabana beach, Pao de Acucar and Botafogo beach. As you can see on the map of Rio de Janeiro this place is not considered an inhabited area although in this green zone about 16.000 people live there.

Now let me describe the project. I will not tell you all the proceedings that were accomplished during two years to prepare the project.

The work group was composed of 16 children (9-13 year’s old), living in the favela, attending school outside the favela, that never had any experience in painting. My assistant was Regina Fernandez of CINEDUC (Visual educational centre in Rio). We worked on the perimeter wall of the local health centre terrace, that the people use as the square of the favela and we produced a collective painting, each participant realizing an individual work (37 linear meters of painting were carried out with the mural painting technique).

The aims of the program were to: f

  • foster positive development and growth for children and youth and improve urban community and neighbourhoods.
  • foster awareness of the importance that our living place, however precarious, in ruin or run down, can be subject to change, in this case through art.
  • promote experience with projects and their realization and thus the relationship between individuals and community.
  • aid learning from experience in a long term perspective.

It is possible to reproduce this program everywhere, because the language of painting is cross-cultural and is receptive of any community’s visual culture . The program doesn’t need any special instruments, but only community participation. No specific age is required.

The program develops in 3 steps and runs 5/6 weeks (five days a week): for children it is a period of about 3 hours at the end of the school day; at other times I did my painting in continuous relationship with the people visiting the terrace.

I Step (1/3 days): to get to know each other.

In the beginning I met all the institutional members of the favela (moradores da favela), the work group of children, all the people involved practically in the program (after school teacher, social workers, school janitors). I presented and discussed the program, summarizing the steps.

II Step (10 days / 2 weeks): to project the work.

I met the work group of children, describing better how the program was to develop.

We chose the theme of the painting. In this case: “The favela: how the city below (Rio) sees it (my part of painting), how the children live it (the children’s painting)”.

All the work group moved to the favela to look at and choose together the place where we would carry out the work. At the same time I met many people of the favela, going all over the village.

The group of children talked among themselves and with me about their way of feeling the favela and what they wanted to represent. We noted the various ideas that emerged.

The children made some drawings about the theme and after we spoke about them and we chose which one we would transfer to the wall.

I taught the work group the multisquare technique to enlarge the drawings.

The children applied this technique to carry out a 1:1 scale drawings on a strong paper.

The group made their first experiences with painting and we talked about the mural painting technique. We painted the drawings that we chose for the wall on paper.

III Step (15 days / 3 weeks): to carry out the mural painting.

All together the work group went to the painting site and cleaned the place: the wall and the ground.

I taught them how to prepare the wall and we did it all together.

Very day they saw me cleaning the ground before beginning to paint (I did my painting in the morning and guided the children in their painting in the afternoon)

I taught the children to transfer their drawings on to the wall making holes in the strong paper like in the fresco painting technique and they did it.

We prepared the colours for painting: they learnt quantity and quality.

Then the children began to paint their own drawings: we decided to do it in groups of four children in rotation (3 days for each group).

At the completion of the work we organized a inauguration in the favela, where all the people came and the children were very proud of the beautiful work that we had made. An exhibition, downtown, documented the whole program with photos, a model of the work and original drawings.

With this we have seen all the steps of the program: I wait for your questions to explain better any unclear passages. I only want to say in conclusion that we had the follow points as results:

  • the whole community supported the work and after fostered similar initiatives.
  • the children were proud to have produced something for the favela where they live. They experienced all the steps of the project and are capable of repeating the experience.
  • the site began a beautiful place for the community and the community preserved the place (two years afterwards I was in the favela and I found the place clean).

Thank you very much for your attention.

Chicago, September 1996

Mimmo Roselli

Thanks to: Prof.Irma Arestizabal , Dir.Solar Grandjean de Montigny (Pontificia Universidad Catolica/RIO), all the staff of Solar/PUC/RIO, NEAM (Nucleo Educacao ao Menor/RIO), Grupo ECHO da Favela S.Marta, Projecto Recrianca/RIO, Prof.Regina Fernandez/CINEDUC/ RIO, PONSA (Pequena Obra Nossa Senora Aulisciadora), Banque Sudameris, IIC/RIO, Rio Arte, Fabrica de Arte U.S.U., Kablin Papeis, Aereoporti di Roma.