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“Pixo & Confusion” The Changing Face of Brazil’s Pixação

“Emerging in the 1980s in São Paulo, Brazil pixação quickly became one of the most aggressive and controversial forms of expression to date, turning its artists, the pixadores, into one of the most marginalized social groups in the city,” writes photographer Choque Photos of Brazil.

“Constantly in search of adrenaline, social resistance and recognition, the pixadores enter the city center from the outskirts in order to assert their existence through bold nocturnal actions – nightly escapes from the social exclusion that weighs on their daily lives.”

We’re talking about pixação, the unique São Paulo-originated form of graffiti. As is true with all forms of unauthorized street art, to some the pixadores are outlaws; to others they are heroes, risking their lives to get up in some of the most dangerous of spaces and situations the world of graffiti has seen.

What happens though, when those pixadores (namely a group of about 40 organized by Rafael Pixobomb) once proud of and known for their anti-establishment/corporation/government beliefs, start attacking local galleries (famously, the Choque Cultural Gallery in São Paulo), universities, and fine arts events? Even worse, why would they travel to Porto Alegre (one of the most conservative cities in Brazil on the pixação issue) and ironically, be paid with government money to organize a project “made to discuss pixação in a higher level,” by writing on blank billboards voluntarily given up by a private organizations when the pixadores’ entire trajectory was to remain outside mainstream art, politics, and government?

Our friend and active member of the art community in Porto Alegre, Ana Ferraz, set us straight on the real story behind the growing scandal sweeping Porto Alegre, São Paulo, and all of Brazil regarding the new face of, and attitude surrounding, pixação.

“That’s what makes pixação different from all the other artistic forms,” states journalist Caru Albuquerque. “Nobody has to like or understand it.” But that’s just the very tip of the scandalous issue. Get the most in-depth story thus far on the entire issue surrounding pixação in Brazil today in a great editorial Ana Ferraz wrote for us below:

Pixo & Confusion
by Ana Ferraz

Pixo or pixo-reto (straight pixo) is the result of doing “pixação”, a kind of graffiti/tag originating from Sao Paulo, (the biggest city in Brazil) that has existed since the early 80s. From a text written by OSGEMEOS in the Graffiti Brasil book (Thames & Hudson, 2005), comes the theory that this style of calligraphy is rooted in the heavy metal band logotypes spray painted on the walls of the time. On the other hand, there’s the aesthetic connection with the Californian Chicano gang style of letters from the 70s.

In any case, pixo has a very peculiar style and it’s an illegal form of expression, made mostly by people from the marginalized areas that have nothing to loose and very little to expect. Their main goal is the “ibope” (the real IBOPE is the biggest statistics institute in the country, known for its TV audience reports). To achieve the pixo’s “ibope”, one must have their name written everywhere, in the highest and most difficult public spaces; it is the equivalent of “getting up” from wild style graffiti writers. When they’re successful, it hurts a society that sees it as a dirty thing; a nonsensical, angry crime. Very few people see it as a creative outlet, as a calligraphic expression coming, in general, from youngsters who have no study or familiarity with graphic design. Since the 80s pixação has taken over major spaces in many Brazilian cityscapes, especially in Sao Paulo. Now, it’s a style known worldwide and many Brazilian artists with roots in urban subcultures we love, like OSGEMEOS and Vitché, used pixo elements in their works.

In this complex context, on June 2008, a pixo writer called Rafael “Pixobomb” organized an attack to Belas Artes (fine arts) University as his graduation work. Fine art student himself, Pixobomb, and a group with about 50 other pixo writers, invaded the university claiming that art must be related to social issues, using pixação to prove his point. It wasn’t very clear if Rafael wanted to elevate pixo as an art form, or if was just used as a way of protest.

In September, the same group attacked Choque Cultural gallery, also in Sao Paulo (photos below.) This time claiming that the real urban art (the pixo) can’t be sold or domesticated, which in their point of view, the gallery was doing. Choque actually sell works with pixo (and graffiti, tattoo, etc) influences but in this violent attack, British pop artworks which have nothing to do with Brazilian urban art where painted over, together with all the walls and even some Juxtapoz magazines (now highly collectable!)

The next target was the most predictable one. In October, a group of 40 pixo writers, once again organized by Rafael Pixobomb, invaded the Sao Paulo Art Bienal (the most important Brazilian fine arts event) this year known as “Bienal of emptiness”, with an entire floor of the building left empty to create a reflection about the meaning of the Bienal. Some people say that the curators knew about the attack and, even more, wanted it. Once again the attacker’s speech was that pixo is the real art, mixed with some protest words. Anyway, they were applauded by the public while trying to escape from the police.

Now, with December comes the newest episode about this group of pixo writers. A cultural project involving pixação added Porto Alegre to the discussion, a city in the southern part of Brazil and home of artists like Bruno 9li, Carlos Dias, Trampo and many others. Organized by a producer known for her work with the hip-hop movement, the project was made to discuss pixação in a higher level and it was paid for with government money. It’s a discussion that pixadores, graffiti and urban artists, and people involved always want to have happen.

One of the project’s actions was the pixo writing on blank billboards, voluntarily given by a private organization, with participants like Rafael Pixobomb and the photographer known as “Choque Photos” (the one who shot the previous attacks. As a side note, he doesn’t have anything to do with Choque Cultural gallery). Of course the pixo writers didn’t paint only the billboards, putting their letters on walls around the city. As one of the most conservative cities on the pixação issue, Porto Alegre’s media made it a scandal, accusing that pixação (a crime, according to Brazilian laws) was being made with public money.

In the last issue of Vista Skateboard Art magazine, released before the Porto Alegre project, there’s the contradictory point of view of some of those pixo writers, involved in the attacks. In a long and great interview by Caru Albuquerque and Silvio Ayala, the pixo writers said that pixação will never be part of the system, government, advertising or fine arts. According to Djan (aka Cripta), “That’s what makes pixação different from all the other artistic forms. […] Nobody has to like or understand it.” Naldo (aka Os Bicho Vivo) said that it can happen to appear as a project from these institutions, but he doubts that the pixo writers would join it. “I don’t think the government and pixo writers can talk… The society won’t win the battle against pixação, and will never accept it,” said Juca (aka Teimosos). Djan even affirmed that these attacks were made to introduce pixação at the Art debate.

Maybe what’s happening now can be loosely related to what Tony Shafrazi did in the 70s. He first appeared to the world for his anti-war graffiti in Picasso’s Guernic and now, well, he’s Tony Shafrazi, the owner of one of the most important New York art galleries. Or perhaps Rafael Pixobomb and his crew are very confused– or they’re really, really smart.

If you happen to read Portuguese, and would like more info on the current pixação scandal, read further here:


February 2019
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