Brazilian Street Art: A Short History

With an overwhelming movement of protest, the phenomenon of Brazilian graffiti commenced in the 1940s and ’50s. Economic and societal problems were getting worse by the day, and people were fed up with the government. It seemed that everyone was eager to find a way to oppose the force that held them down. In the beginning, political parties started putting posters up in the streets, donning their slogans and stating their demands for human rights.

In the sixties, Brazilians took political protest, in the form of art, to a new level. Tropicalia (also known as Musica Popular Brasileira (MPB), or Popular Brazilian Music) had entered the stage as a musical and artistic movement. Graffiti artists started writing tropicalia song lyrics in their work. There was a military coup in 1964, led by Costa and Silva, however, which declared graffiti as a massive threat to the military. Graffiti continued throughout the rest of the sixties, but artists were much more clandestine, and its general visibility significantly diminished in popular culture.

While the military dictatorship still had its stronghold on Brazil in the mid-1970s, protest movements began calling for democracy with a vengeance. In this demand for social equality, graffiti artists played a key factor. Almost instantaneously, political messages started to surface across the country’s city walls. Even though the messages were reminiscent of those in the 40s and 50s, this time the graffiti was even more daring. Graffiti artists were even more bold, determined, and fervent about taking back their public space. With the passage of each day, buildings were exponentially covered with thick, defiant words of command.

By the time the 1980s came around, graffiti art had become tolerated, and even accepted, by the government and society. At that time, the world’s main hub for graffiti was New York. The art and hip hop movement emerging in the U.S. greatly influenced Brazilian graffiti artists. Hip hop resonated with the street artists, and these artistic and musical worlds soon became intertwined. At the beginning of this merging, Brazilian graffiti artists largely imitated the foreign images they saw in magazines and films. With time, Brazilian artists inevitably adopted their own complex, distinctive style of graffiti.

Brazil’s global prominence in producing some of the most significant street art was only just beginning.


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