I first encountered the work of Nação in an exhibition at Caixa Cultural a few months ago, called Fabulosas Desordens, that set out to redefine the aesthetic of Rio by valorizing graffiti as a fundamental, urban art form. According to their website, the exhibit "arose from the reflection on the institutionalization of graffiti art as a contemporary visual language and its relations with the city, the communication channels and, especially, with current art production." Placed in the gallery setting, the young graffiti artists expanded their range, working with some formal aspects of art they had never considered, such as lighting and how to approach a purely white wall. In the gallery, there was no interplay with the street, their work had to stand on its own and interpret a space that was free of crutches, just white space. According to the curators, friends of Nação, the entire space was tagged and finished in just one afternoon, which is impressive, if not unbelievable, if you saw the show. For those that did not make it, there are photos on the exhibition's website that will give a peek into both the international and Brazilian graffiti scene and the interconnection between the two.
I left the show, smiling like an idiot, touched not only by the beauty and the breadth of the work but the keen social consciousness behind it. I was especially impressed with that of Nação, represented in this show by graffiti writers, Bragga and Ment, because of their strict adherence to urban themes. While many of the other works were aesthetically pleasing, they lacked the focus of Nação. Their work was sharp, to the point and did not get lost in exotic dreamscapes or nostalgic images of the Sertão. It was an urban show and they were, by and large, the most urban representatives. Living for some time in Rio, I could find my own struggles to understand the cacophony of this city left simply stated on their walls.
To say the least, my interest was sparked.
I set on the web to find out what I could and happened across a Deutsch site called Caramundo. The organization describes themselves in the following manner: "Caramundo is a young non-profit organization that supports small-scale, local projects and initiatives of young people in developing countries in Latin America and Africa that stimulate autonomy and independence. We think that young people all over the world should have the chance to reveal themselves on a social, political, educational and cultural level." Much of the work of this organization is tied up directly with Nação Graffiti. Through them and a very kind woman named Anouk who Ment, a Nação member, described as being "as close as a sister," I began meeting up with the core members of the crew to informally teach them English via photocopied packets I made at home, which included graffiti vocabulary and necessary slang.
As a result, I've gotten to know them quite well during my last month here and look at them all as friends. The more I get to know them, the more I find affirmation in what had originally attracted me to their work in the show at Caixa: a intuitive and reactive social consciousness. Through their art, they have the liberty to redefine space, whether that means the beautification of one space or the radicalization and defacement of another. They are allowed complete mobility throughout society via their art. Putting this notion to good ends, the main goal of Nacão right now is to open a graphic design school in Zona Norte where they grew up. A social aspect of this school would be to "use part of the profit to invest in graffiti workshops for young children of poor neighborhoods and advanced courses in graphic- and web design as well. Those workshops and courses will keep young boys and girls away from drug trafficking, prostitution and other forms of violence and guide them into a creative and constructive process towards independence." In this way, they are eager to spread the livelihood they themselves have found in graffiti. For Nação, graffiti provides an opportunity to enact social change. If anyone is planning to live in Rio and is interested in teaching English informally and hanging out with a wonderful group of creative and cheeky "vagabundos," I ask that you please contact me and I will send word onto them.
in portuguese//em português:
3) Gais final thought
also, check out their links
and their gallery, the first of its kind in Rio: