In Brazil, art and bullets in a large favela in Rio

LETTER FROM RIO

In the distance, we can make out a small children’s playground, an unusual facility in the set of 16 favelas in Maré; one of the largest in Brazil, where about 140,000 people live. As we get closer, we can only notice the many bullet holes in the walls of the surrounding buildings. And then, to the right of the children’s games, a long set of panels oftiles, these white ceramic tiles, painted in shades of blue, capture all the attention, so unique is the art in this pile of bricks and concrete that we have just walked through. The Azulejaria artist collective has been working in Maré for seventeen years and this is not their first job. Walking through these narrow alleys and busy streets, one can come across these ceramic panels made through workshops with the locals.

But the installation of the Place de la Paix, as the children’s playground is now called, is very different from the previous ones; It is a memorial to the victims of gun violence. “It was one of the most difficult to build, given the emotional charge it represents,” says Laura Taves, artist and creator of the Azulejaria collective. On this occasion, the workshops were held with the collective of the mothers of Maré and the families who lost a loved one in this endless war against drugs.

Most of the 127 victims shown here died in police operations, always a nightmare for favela dwellers.. “The police are claiming many victims, as in the last operation, at the end of November, in which eight people died. She only behaves like this in the favelas, never in the formal neighborhoods”explains Patricia Ramalho, responsible for these issues at the NGO Redes da Maré.

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157 dead in four years

But there is, in addition to police violence, armed conflicts between the two criminal groups that have always disputed this territory. According to data collected by the NGO, in four years (from 2017 to 2021), the complex has experienced 132 police operations and 114 clashes between armed groups, with a balance of 157 deaths.

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The site of the memorial was not chosen randomly and could appear to be a provocation towards the traffickers. Nothing characterizes him in the eyes of the novice, but he is installed in the “division”, an invisible but very real line and known by all the inhabitants of the complex: the one that separates the territory of the Comando Vermelho from that occupied by the Third Command. The many bullet holes in the surrounding buildings are the result of his war.

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