The Morro da Providência, Rio’s oldest favela, indeed the place where the word favela arrived at its modern meaning. An improvised hillside community, claimed in 1897 by returning soldiers in fulfilment of a broken government promise to house them, it looks over the affluence of the city beneath. It was a fitting place to begin People’s Palace Projects’ Encounters:Transforming Lives project, with an exploration by young people of how an audio-visual installation might begin to tell the stories of a territory and a community.
The three interviewees are Felipe, Bruna and Erika – three students at Spectaculu who went on to participate in a Rio-London exchange, and then became peer mentors to the São Paulo groups whose “Declaração” videos can be seen among the Actions of this project. They were part of a group of design students at Rio’s highly-respected arts and design college who had worked for several weeks under the direction of Paul Heritage (Principal Investigator/Artistic Director) and Gary Stewart (Research Assistant/Associate Artist). Paul directed the students to go into Providência, listen and observe: to ask questions that would open up people’s feelings about the community that had been made and remade there, record their answers, and document the sights and sounds of the territory. In group sessions, the students shared and discussed the material they had collected and explored with Gary how VJ-ing software could open up ways that these stories could most powerfully be told and contextualised.
We did not open the project in Providência after all. Rio’s favelas have long been contested sites, whether that contest is between rival drug gangs or between those gangs and the representatives of the City authorities responsible for public security. In November 2010, as we prepared for the staging of the first installation, Rio’s military police force launched an aggressive invasion of one of the city’s largest favelas, Complexo de Alemão. There were fears of reciprocal attacks by the drug gangs; tensions in local communities ran too high for us to be able to risk bringing the young students and the community together for the staging. That November we showed the piece at Spectaculu – our partner institution – and returned in March 2011 for the showing in Providência documented here.
Casa Amarela – the “yellow house” where the installation was projected – was an arts centre thrown open to the community of Providência by underground Parisian artist JR. It, and the open square adjoining it, have now been built over as part of the transport modernization in preparation for 2014’s World Cup and the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The right to decide which territorial interventions will be of most benefit to Rio’s communities remains contested.
There is an informative English-language article by Misha Glenny in the FT about Rio’s pacification programme, public security, urban development and gentrification and their impacts on some of Rio’s peripheral communities here.