Graffiti Artist Sprays Brazil's Turmoil Across Its City Walls

Jul 4, 2014
Originally published on July 6, 2014 6:27 pm

Brazilian street artist Paulo Ito has captured the spirit of the World Cup with two controversial images: One depicts a starving Brazilian boy with nothing but a soccer ball to eat; the other depicts even protesters watching the games on television. They both speak to viewers worldwide about the costs of staging the mega event. Ito explains what inspired his work and what's happening in Brazil.

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Before the World Cup began, Brazilians were upset over spiraling costs and labor strikes. The majority were unhappy with hosting the games. But new poll numbers out this week show that that sentiment has shifted. Sixty-three percent of Brazilians now support the World Cup. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on how one artist, Paulo Ito, captured Brazil's changing mood.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: We are standing here in front of one of the main highways in Sao Paulo that goes toward the stadium where the World Cup games are being played. What are - what are we seeing in front of us?

PAULO ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Paulo Ito, a graffiti artist who's canvas is the streets of this gritty mega-city. Ito is 36, soft spoken, and he comes to our interview in paint splattered pants. In a series of images, he's managed to capture the zeitgeist of the games here so far. His first World Cup-related picture went viral. You might even have seen it. It shows a poor black boy crying while being made to eat a football.

ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People were questioning themselves about what are the priorities here? What are the problems in Brazil? How can the World Cup happen in a country that is still developing? People were questioning all of that, he says. And that image seemed to encapsulate many people's misgivings. Things, though, have changed since the World Cup began and Brazil's team started winning. So last week, he painted a different image. His latest artwork can be found on the side of an underpass, and he describes the piece.

(Portuguese spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's a group of fans watching a soccer game on TV, and in the corner, there's a protester with a flag insulting FIFA, soccer's world governing body. He's wearing a bandanna to cover his face. But like the others, he's watching the game, too, he tells me. His inspiration, he says, was a small news story in one of the local papers.

ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: In Rio, there was a protest, and some of the protesters stopped to watch the game on TV as they were marching along to see how the game was going, Ito says.

ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: This image shows a contradiction, he says - which I think is very common and has a lot to do with me, too because I don't agree with FIFA, he says, but at the same time, I like to watch the games. So it's a bit about that, he says. He says he will probably do a third image after the games are over.

ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: As for me, I double my likes on Facebook, which isn't much he tells me. I didn't get money from it either. And personally, I didn't become famous. But the images have made an impact, he says. But a lasting one - he's not so sure.

ITO: (Portuguese spoken).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Most people saw these images on the Internet. Few people saw them on the walls. And the Internet is as ephemeral as graffiti. One day, it exists, and then, in another day, it isn't there anymore. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

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