On Sunday night Mirela, our translator, took us up into Catete favela. A VW combi bus bounced us up the cobbled streets, then we walked through the tiny alleys to find The Maze, a jazz club. We met the owner Bob Nadkarni, a characterful English artist who had the foresight back in 1972, not to rejoin his broken down boat, but to stay and start the long project of building his own cavernous studio on top of a hill with one of the best views of Rio. Bob regaled us with stories about East Finchley; among other things he talked to us about some of his many projects, including his work as a film-maker, sculptor, painter and jazz musician. He and his wife also run a hostel in The Maze. He was very interested to hear about our backgrounds in the arts and the Home project – and is happy to help facilitate where he can as he has a wealth of connections with the local, and wider artistic community in Rio.
We will certainly return to The Maze when we next visit, and for anyone visiting Rio soon we strongly recommend it.
On Monday we met Luana Cabral, Artistic Producer and Coordinator for AfroReggae. Their work started in Vigario favela twenty-two years ago as a response to daily violence and tragedy. They now run a variety of projects promoting justice and inclusion through Afro- Brazilian culture. Luana’s impressive presentation of their work and the beliefs underlying everything they do was fascinating. We were particularly struck by the variety of support mechanisms and projects that gives physical and emotional support that empowers. Since Bill Mitchell, Artistic Director of WildWorks, believes strongly in the importance of supporting local communities who become part of WildWorks productions, there was a resonance in the work of the two companies. Luana was interested in the images and descriptions of previous collaborations between Zap and Wild Works, including Souterrain.
AfroReggae is a truly inspirational company, and we valued the opportunity to meet Luana and hear about their work.
Tuesday: another great day. We started with a meeting with Cristina Bokel Becker who has worked previously for the British Council (she remembers meeting Bill Mitchell in Cornwall in his Kneehigh days). We had attended the opening of her ATOS DE FALA Festival the evening before and Cristina was very pleased that the festival made the front page of the newspaper. Cristina was passionate about the discovery of new voices in the arts in Brazil and encouraged our project to make new links in Rio beyond the few well-known arts bodies.
We greatly enjoyed meeting Cristina, being introduced to ATOS DE FALA, and her warm enthusiasm and considered suggestions for ‘Home’. We hope to spend more time with her as the project develops.
Next we visited Mauricio Hora and his assistant, Cristiano, in Favelarte in Gamboa. Mauricio is an internationally renowned photographer, who took up photography as a ‘weapon’ to escape the violence of his favela upbringing. He was very interested in our Home project. He would love his work to reach a wider audience to enable his community to have a stronger voice. He then took us on the cable car up into Providentia favela to visit his Casa Miyella ‘Yellow House’, an arts space, funded by the money raised by French documentary photographer JR.
To meet Mauricio and to see the Yellow House was a privilege.
Wednesday: another inspirational day! Firstly to the dance studios of Redes de Mare organisation, a huge working studio space in The Mare (a collection of 16 favelas). We met Isabella Porto, the Coordinator at the Studios and Lia Rodrigues, a choreographer of her own international dance company. Two hundred and fifty students aged seven to seventy, attend free dance classes, and eighteen young people attend class four hours daily forming the core dance company in this space. We visited a variety of Redes De Mare’s spaces, including an impressive project including adult and children’s libraries, study rooms and, outside, bikes belonging to the Mare Sem Fronteiras programme to encourage kids to cross the symbolic borders created by the criminals in the favelas. Their project has produced the first map of the 16 favelas; this makes the favelas visible to the world. The Redes De Mare project started off twenty-two years ago, as a fight for basic rights for things such as water. Now it has widened its brief to the need for culture and public security and is currently running 16 projects locally. They are keen to promote pride in local people’s home areas by bringing in artists e.g. Italian photographer Antonio Venturi, who created a very positive exhibition based on work with drug users about their ideas on the place they call home.
Relationships to Home were clear. However – beyond that – it was simply a pleasure to hear about their history and achievements.
After a great local lunch, we visited Observatorio De Favelas in Bella Mare, 2 blocks away. We met Jorge Barbosa, a gentle yet dynamic academic who heads the Observatory and the Cultural Centre nearby. He is a great believer in public art not just being about aesthetics, but also being about socialisation. The project has many strands: photography agency and school, web design, research office, publicly agency and a partnership with the university, which also accredits their courses. The cultural centre is exhibiting, for the third year running, an impressive contemporary art show ‘Travessiass’, linking well-known and local artists. Jorge likes to work in partnerships that deliver legacy and change; he was interested in the title of our book Landscape Theatre. To help our work, he offered access to very detailed information on the favelas (one interesting fact, there are 500 Rock bands in the favelas!)
The themes of resilience, identity and community have been emerging as we talk around this concept of home.
Thursday, our last day in wonderful Rio. Mirela, our fantastic guide, showed us around Vidigal favela. The steep hilly favela was lively and friendly. It had three outdoor performance areas, as well as a large sports arena and kindergarten. Apparently the local drug baron arranged for the arena to be built after a huge landslide destroyed part of the hill. We visited the project Todos na Luta where Mirela volunteers. Raff Giglo set up this boxing project in 1993 to help disadvantaged young people through boxing; two of its boxers won medals in last year’s London Olympics. His daughter, among others, runs a programme developed with Harvard University, which includes self awareness and creativity. Each session comprises of four elements: The mind, using meditation techniques. The Body, boxing. Feelings, getting in touch with their feelings through creative activities. The Mouth, words, and making connections. The project uses video to build communication skills and empower the youngsters as well as build skills in using technology. Lucas, the psychology specialist, offered to help us with links to São Paulo and Rio universities; we are hoping to connect with institutes of learning in each location.
After winding our way down the hill past numerous barbers, cafes and small shops, we went through an oily car mechanic workshop to find Moda Fusion a fashion atelier that trains twenty young people each year in pattern cutting, sewing skillsand design. The students have links with the fashion world in Paris, as well as central St Martins in London. We were encouraged to contact Gringo Cardia, ‘the father of creative enterprises in Rio’, if we wanted a fashion link for Home.
All the work we have seen in the favelas has been really inspiring. We have been made very welcome by all the people we have visited, and have come away with a lot of positive feedback on our initial ideas for Home.
Home – Conceived by Dave Reeves with Bill Mitchell and produced by Zap Art in collaboration with artistic lead WildWorks. Supported using public funding from the National Lottery through Arts Council England.