Friday, March 25, 2016

BTC 2016, Madre de Deus

It seems my blog has been reduced to the occasional super important event, a couple posts a year, if I can actually be bothered to write something.  That's okay.  This blog had it's run, it was fun, and it gave me a chance to vent at a time that I didn't really have much of an opportunity to do so.

So here in Brazil we find ourselves in the midst of a massive political crisis, an attempt at the impeachment of the president, an attempt at jailing a wildly popular ex-president, and the attempt to shield him from prison.  I'm not going to write about that.  I don't really understand it, it's terrifying, but I'm not a reporter and wouldn't pretend to have an educated opinion on the subject.  However, I will say this: it occurred to me a couple years ago that I arrived in Brazil at what may be viewed historically as a lull in the storm: the economy was doing well, politics relatively stable, free press, etc.  If I'd showed up here during the dictatorship, during the years of hyper inflation, it's difficult for me to imagine having stayed here, and even more difficult to imagine starting a business here.  But I did both, and now that the proverbial shit is hitting the proverbial fan, what happens next?  On the one hand, if things completely unravel here it's hard to imagine that there will be guerrilla warfare in the streets of Salvador, although I suppose anything's possible.  On the other hand, is it really time for me to pull up the stakes and get the fuck out of Dodge?  The US in spite of its own political shit storm does seem to be keeping its head above water economically speaking, at least for now.  But the thought of starting over again is daunting, although it won't get any easier as I continue on the path to middle age, and I will eventually leave this place.  I decided that a long time ago.

One last thing on the subject and then I'll shut up: can anyone say "Really Bad Timing"?  Maybe this is just my non-Brazilian perspective, but Brazil is just about to host the Olympics.  It's gotten a huge amount of bad press for not getting its act together in preparing for them, not to mention the sewage in the bay and the now notorious zica virus.  It has invested millions, if not billions, to make the Olympics happen.  And now, like two months before it starts, you're going to impeach the president???  It's like your family is planning this huge party or wedding or something, catered, maybe you got the house landscaped and painted and installed a pool just for the occasion, and then the weekend before it happens there's a massive, violent fight and the cops are called and a couple family members are arrested and the whole neighborhood is in an uproar about it.  The party/wedding may still go on, but it's going to be extremely awkward and probably some people aren't going to show up.

So that's that.  Pardon the profanity, I will not be using such foul language from here on in.  In the face of political meltdown, we hosted our second graffiti event, Bahia de Todas as Cores 2016, "Esse Spray Tem Dendê."  We had it in the city of Madre de Deus, which is about an hour outside of Salvador, a city notable for it's complete domination by the petroleum industry: vast fields of massive holding tanks and elaborate pipelines that line the roads.  In spite of that, it manages to be a lovely place with lots of local charm.  One of the major differences this year from last is that everything seemed to be more relaxed, getting out of the megatropolis and away from the traffic and the negative elements was an excellent, excellent idea.  Wish I could take credit for it.

All the rest is just art and details.  I'm going to skip the details and post some art, with a little commentary.  The main wall was enormous: it snakes along the back of a neighborhood, separating it from one of these fields of petroleum holding tanks.  It's not going to get much visibility from anyone but the people in the neighborhood, but it was an awesome place to have an event.  Mostly stuck at my booth selling paint, at the end of the day yesterday I finally was able to walk the wall from one end to the other.  It became clear to me that I had two options: take dozens or perhaps hundreds of photos, or make a video of the whole thing, from one end to the other.  I opted for the latter, as I think it gives a much better sense of the continuity of the thing.  The video runs for eight and a half minutes, which gives you an idea of just how long the wall is.  It's kinda shaky, and if you have a short attention span I suggest that you skip the middle (although there are some great pieces in there) and watch the end, which has the most amazing collaboration of the event.  My phone's battery died right at the end, but luckily it happened when I reached the very last piece, the only thing that doesn't appear in the video are the logos of the sponsors, which include my store.  No biggie.  I'm not really one for self promotion.  The downside of the battery dying is that I would have taken some more photos, at least of the massive production with the western scene, but it was not to be.  I'm sure we'll have some better photos eventually on the site: - coming soon!

On Friday we had a 'multirão,' where anyone could show up and paint.  The wall was much smaller than the main wall, but it is much more central and will be seen by many more people.

This last one is probably the most important painting from the multirão, at least for the city of Madre de Deus.  It is a portrait of a 16 year old girl who was killed by a stray bullet about a week ago, she studied at the school that we painted.  The artist's name is Trigo.  I shoulda taken a photo of the finished painting, it came out really well.

All the photos that follow are from the main wall, painted over the saturday and sunday of the event.

And now, (assuming really bad fake french accent) the Pièce De Résistance:

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Ugly Head Reared

Recently we hosted a German couple at our house and they left us the following review:
“Mark is fluent in English which is very helpful and rare in Brazil. The room itself was exactly as in the pictures, clean and with a comfortable bed. We didn't really like the bathroom, because it smelled gross and we made the first and only time aquaintance with cockroaches in a house. Unfortunately the room is on the ground floor on the side of the road, which is very dirty and smelly. All day and and half the night there were people in front of the room, talking, laughing, screaming... When leaving and returning you had to fasten and undo 3 (!) locks and it was not recommended to leave the house and turn right (!!). We felt very unsafe and uncomfortable as whites in Mark's neighborhood. In comparison to many other (website deleted) opportunities in Brazil so far, we would NOT recommend this place (exception: black males who can live with the circumstances). We are very sorry to say that.”
Needless to say I was shocked and infuriated by this.  Street dirty and noisy?  Yep, aware of that.  Cockroach in the house?  Say it isn't so!  Gross smell in the bathroom?  That's a new one.  Neighborhood only suitable for black males?  Go f*ck yourself people.

I had hoped to write a long, carefully considered post on this topic; I spent a huge amount of time thinking about it and lost most of a night's sleep as well.  But as is so often the case the days go sliding by and if I don't write something right now (Sunday night) chances are I won't write anything at all.  It's getting late and I should be asleep so I'm going to have to keep it short.  Let me say only that I received a lot of support from friends and family when I mentioned what happened on Facebook, not least of all my elderly mother who has visited us four times and has not felt threatened here, despite being neither black nor male.  Also the website in question, which I have decided not to name, did the right thing when I complained and removed the review, stating that it violated their content policy.

My critique I will leave in the form of the response I was planning to leave to the review, in the event it was not removed from the site.  Here it is:
This review is inappropriate and borderline racist.  I wrote this couple a follow up email, asking if something had happened to them, if they had been discriminated against as white people in my neighborhood.  They didn't answer, which could mean that they didn't receive my email, or that they chose not to reply, but I think the truth is that, in fact, nothing happened to them that could be described as racial discrimination.  I have lived in this neighborhood for over ten years and I have never felt discriminated against on the basis of my race, and as far as I know none of the other hundreds of guests that have stayed with us ever have either.  In all probability, they felt uncomfortable as obvious foreigners in the midst of a sea of dark faces, in a neighborhood that is often chaotic and definitely loud.  Discomfort is not the same as discrimination and they should not be confused: protections exist against discrimination, effective or no, and indeed white people are sometimes subject to discrimination although not nearly to the degree of other races.  If you are going to claim discrimination, be prepared to back it up, at least with your version of a specific incident.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The White Imperialist Strikes Back

Today, as you can see, I went back and finished my painting.  I waited for a day that I had to myself without other obligations so I could finish the damn thing, take my photo, and split.  This is in case my nemesis Johnny Bongos, the misguided revolutionary, decides to write more obscenities on it this evening.  I have a feeling he won't, but you never know.

I deliberated long and hard (way too long and hard) about what to do with my damaged painting, initially wanting to put a big bomb over the whole thing and forget about it - I may still do that if The Nemesis chooses to manifest.  Finally I decided to fix and finish the piece, mostly because it was so close to being finished and I'd been so pleased with how it was going.  If I'd had my druthers I would have spent more time on it, but it's already taken up too much of my time, so I just did what I could and on to the next project.

should'a taken a 'before' image as well

There's a debate in the graffiti community about the effect that the internet has had on the scene internationally, kind of like how there is a debate about how the internet has had an effect on... pretty much every element of our lives.  Probably the most scorned facet of this discussion is how the internet has allowed people to paint something in their backyard, throw it online, and start bragging about their mad skills.  I've heard people say (quite recently in fact) "I'm just doing it for the photo," and you know what?  That's exactly what I did right here.  Not to mention the fact that this is practically in my backyard, although not quite backyardy enough to be safe from the likes of the malevolent pixador Johnny Bongos!!

Speaking of Mr. Bongos, he never did come by the store to explain to me what the hell his problem is, although he did walk right by it on Saturday and didn't so much as glance in my direction standing on the sidewalk.  I debated calling out to him but I have been counseled repeatedly by my wife to just let it go and forget about the dude.  I did hear second hand that he was claiming that somehow I represent American imperialism to him (and the rest of the Salvador street painting scene perhaps), so I was hoping he would come by the store so I could disabuse him of this foolish notion.  I also heard that this Maconha guy (see previous post) is his cousin, which presents a much more likely scenario for his aggressive act.  He did take down the "White imperialism" post from his Facebook page, or at least made it private.

Several people, after viewing the "Fuck USA" photos have attributed his act to "Emoção," or emotion.  I'm not entirely sure I get this, but I do know that here in Brazil emoção is serious shit.  When there's emoção going on, best get out of the way.  My hope is that, if it was emoção, it won't strike again and dude will leave me alone and we can both get on with our lives.  Not that I believe for a second that he was nearly as bothered by this whole thing as I was.