A mini-world from the streets of Rio de Janeiro is springing up at Queens College.
A seven-artist group from Vila Pereira da Silva, one of the many favelas, poor communities made up of shanties built with scraps of wood and found metal, which dot Rio de Janeiro, is creating the Morrinho Project for the first time in New York City. There are rows upon rows of painted paver blocks outside the library and science building representing the artists’ homes in the sprawling South American country.
About a fourth of Rio de Janeiro is occupied by shanty homes with Vila Periera da Silva being the first of the city’s favelas to be “pacified” or taken back from drug dealers that control many of these neighborhoods.
In recent years, the favelas have become “chic,” said QC professor Tom Collins.
Tourists flock from all over to walk the dangerous streets that some might imagine to be just like the film “The City of God,” which depicts a favela so different from what individuals from developed countries know. There are drugs, poverty, danger and hope of employment all filmed in a romanticized way.
The artists have a problem with this neatly packaged way to look at a marginalized community, but at the same time the artists have enjoyed some perks by hosting their own tours of the original Morrinho Project. The original mini-village covers a hidden hillside — spanning about 3,767 square feet — above the artists’ community.
“The government is starting to turn the communities more beautiful for the tourists, which is good in some way such as for an exchange in cultures,” said artist and documentarian with the Morrinho Project Chico Serra.
The artists hope to reimage their home, which while it has its problems, also has a wealth of culture. Through the Morrinho Project the artists also created a nonprofit to offer educational programs for teens and children in these Rio communities.
“I hate the word favelado,” Cilan de Oliveira said of the word some use to call the people who live in these communities.
“When someone says that they are calling you uneducated,” he explained.
Some people who live in these slums don’t have the money to paint their homes, while others choose to adorn their walls in bright shades of blue, pink, yellow and turquoise.
The creators of the Morrinho Project — “morrinho” meaning “little hill” in Portuguese — decided to go for colors.
“Color gives more life,” Serra said.
Many of the bricks also have writing on them such as “I love Africa” and “funk RJ.”
“On each brick you give something of yourself to it,” said artist Raniere Dias.
Oliveira began stacking bricks he had stolen from his mason father in 1998.
His family had just moved from north of Rio to Vila Pereira da Silva and because of paperwork or bureaucracy the 14-year-old Oliveira was not able to attend school for a year. Instead of letting his idle hands find illegal activities that plague these communities, he turned to art, creating a smaller version of his surroundings.
Soon many other boys joined Oliviera creating mini-roads, above-ground public transportation and brightly-colored painted homes and filling it with little Lego-like people and cars. They filmed and acted out the wars between the drug cartels and police using comical, high-pitched voices to narrate and plotted ways to take over the neighboring kids’ mini-favela like an imaginary re-enactment of the real-life wars happening around them.
These short films on YouTube became popular as they grew up. Last year the films were shown in Manhattan at New York University.
“They are able to say all the things they would otherwise not be able to say about the police or conditions,” said Collins, who helped bring the project to the college for its “Year of Brazil.” Each year the college picks a country to focus art programming, lectures and events around.
In addition to the artists spending the three weeks creating the first New York-based Morrinho Project, they receive help from 25 QC students who are putting in 30 hours each — another example of how the project mixes cultures.
When: through September
Where: Rosenthal Library Plaza at Queens College, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing