Few countries will attract more attention than Brazil over the coming years. In 2014 they’ll host the football World Cup; in 2016 the Olympic Games head to Rio de Janeiro. If you really listen, you can almost hear the squelch of the world’s population slowly turning their eyeballs in the country’s direction.
With that in mind we were keen to get an idea of the creative culture which is burgeoning in Brazil at the moment, but where to begin? For a start it’s thousands of miles away. Secondly, it’s massive. At 8,511,965 km² you can fit Europe in it. The best way in, we realised, was to call on six different creatives from the worlds of fashion, art, photography, design and music – people who either live and work in Brazil or who have a real tangible connection to its cultural scene. The interviews were a chaotic mix of noise, life, scenery, music, passion, hard work and creativity – much like the country itself.
Interestingly, almost everyone we spoke to mentioned the political unrest which is spreading across the country as it prepares itself for its time in the spotlight. In a nutshell the country is spending hundreds of millions of pounds on stadiums, roads, sports centres and other expensive ways of glitzing itself up in order to be presented to the world. For the majority of Brazilians who live in poverty with limited access to hospitals and schools, the idea of such extraordinary amounts of money going on seemingly frivolous investments does not sit well. The disturbances have been growing and gradually spreading over the past few weeks, culminating in 300 rioters hurling firebombs at police in Rio following a visit from the Pope. Although the Pontiff himself was met with enthusiastic crowds (Brazil has the largest Catholic population in the world) word got out that his visit cost the country over £32 million, and the public were enraged.
Gilles Peterson, a London-based DJ, has been travelling to and from Brazil for many years, and knows and loves the country. “I think, funnily enough, you’re getting a little bit of a parallel with the London riots a year before the Olympics. All this money’s being spent, the people aren’t getting anything and they’re living in shitty conditions. It’s still a very troubled country in a number of ways, with an awful lot of corruption and a lot of money that’s just sort of ‘around’ but not being used to help the difficult places.”
Fashion label founder Rafael Varandas actually got caught up in the chaos. “I’ve just came back from a riot, it’s taking over all of Brazil, there are more than 250,000 people going out to the streets,” he said. “It all started because of a raise in the cost of public transport and it’s now expanded to all the the problems involving politics. It’s insane.” He does however feel that despite the unrest, Brazil will always manage to maintain the positive energy it has always harboured. “It’s a cliché to say but people here seem to have this joy of living, even with all the problems in the country. They just assume that it’s always happened and it always will, so they just enjoy their lives.”
This tendency to temper concern about the social unrest with a focus on the more pleasurable aspects of life in Brazil was fairly typical. “Fruit juices and beach,” said artist Rafaël Rozendaal, bluntly, when asked what came into his mind when he heard the country’s name. Dutch-Brazilian Rafaël is an artist who buys domain names, transforms the webpages using exceptional coding, and sells them on as works of art. “My Mom is from Brazil. I love it there. I love the combination of nature and city, it’s a very dramatic landscape. The opposite of flat Holland.” The dramatic landscapes seem to have inspired many of Rafaël’s online works. Go to www.vaiavanti.com and you’ll be taken on an animated voyage through rolling, technicolour hills towards an infinite horizon; if you visit www.yesforsure.com you’ll find yourself peering down on to an enormous stretch of sand with a thin wave repeatedly washing over it.
“I think Brazil has an amazing history of architecture and landscape design, probably because the nature is so dramatic. Brazil’s nature is like the world’s biggest volcano erupted and spewed green lava all over the country.” Engrained in his blood it may be, but Rafaël admits his work is, in practice, slightly hindered by Brazil’s aesthetic. “When I’m there I don’t want to work, I just want to sit on the beach and watch the waves.”
If it’s Brazil’s lush vegetation that Rafaël fixates on, Gilles’ first taste of the country he would grow to love came in São Paulo, and was something of a culture shock.
“You’ve got quite a lot of big differences between the cities, you know. You’ve got the real intensity of São Paulo which was actually the last thing I was imagining when I went over there for the first time. It felt like a weird cross between Birmingham and New York. I didn’t expect to turn up in Birmingham when I was in Brazil!“
As a DJ, the sheer diversity of the regions of Brazil proved fascinating when it came to the music that is produced there. If you’re looking for a carnival atmosphere and the stereotypical whistles and feathers you may have seen on TV, Rio’s your place. “It’s an outdoor city, it has all the clichés, that’s more the kind of samba, bossa nova, the more feel-good sort of sound comes out of it. Happier, more outward, extrovert music would come out of Rio.” 200 miles away in São Paulo, the vibe is a little different.
“The crowd is a little bit more, shall we say, nerdy and academic. They like to watch you more than they like to party and they have the more arty projects there. That’s where you get the really cool electronic artists and you get the really underground things developing.”
In comparison to places like London, where underground music, fashion and art seem to be so prevalent they’re barely subterranean at all, Brazil’s cool scenes have tended to be few and far between. Rafael Varandas lives in the Higienópolis neighbourhood of São Paulo and is the founder of Cotton Project, a Brazilian fashion label aiming to provide suitable, affordable apparel to Brazil’s hipsters. “There’s not really much of a fashion culture here, it’s basically mainstream shit,” he says. “The fashion scene in Brazil its dominated by more formal mainstream brands that are mainly just some boring Brazilian versions of Banana Republic. New brands have a hard time surviving here because their products are expensive and the range of consumers is pretty small.”
Rafael is on a quest to provide the youth of Brazil with the kind clothing that, as of recently, they have become increasingly exposed to online, particularly on blogs. “With more access to information, my generation is questioning this established ‘fashion culture’ that I’ve just described. Kids are more globalised these days – they know how the kids in Barcelona, east London and Williamsburg dress and they want to consume all this. So there’s been some new brands like Cotton Project that believe in a more open Brazilian couture, something that connects us to all the foreign culture we’ve been absorbing all these years. It’s too early to say if these changes are gonna be significant but new businesses are happening here, and they are finding ways to survive in this economy.”
Alongside this new fashion culture there’s a young, burgeoning art scene which nearly all of the creatives mentioned at some stage or another. Be it street art, pop-up exhibitions or just increased public interest in large galleries, there’s constantly something exciting, quietly bubbling away among the young artists across the whole country. Not just that, but it seems that the whole world has pricked up its ears and is paying attention. Marcelo Gomes, a photographer from Rio whose fun, sun-drenched shots have been featured in the likes of Inventory Magazine, Dazed & Confused and New York Magazine, is now based in the USA.
He said: “There are lots of young artists in Rio and São Paulo, and I believe that there’s a lot of good work too, old and new,“ he said. “There are a couple of young art journalists at large newspapers who are getting more space, and starting to grow with a new generation of artists, galleries and the new art market itself.” Like some of the others, Marcelo was less excited about the “dated” street art scene.
Rafael Varandas puts the recent large amount of interest in the country’s art scene down to the sheer nature of the Brazilian people. “I think there is something about Brazilian artists, maybe a feeling or a passion, that really fascinates the international art scene. It’s definitely related to the country’s background, the poverty, the suffering, the nature, the joy. It’s finding meaning in the chaos. That’s something really particular to Brazil and it is probably why it catches the attention of foreign art critics before getting big over here.”
This increasing interplay of domestic and international influences can be found in the design world too. David Galasse is a freelance graphic designer and head of creative at the Ginga agency. His Brazil is “sun, warm people, many colours, beautiful women, a mix of races and cultures, samba and bossa nova,” and he’s fascinated by Brazil’s design history.
“When I started getting interested in design, I was inspired by guys like David Carson, Ed Fella, Neville Brody, and Emigre, but during college I met the work of Brazilian designers such as Rogério Duarte, Aloisio Magalhães, Alexandre Wollner, Kiko Farkas, Bea Feitler, Rico Lins, Gringo Cardia, Guto Lacaz – they are all great references to me.” David’s work is infused with tropical pastel shades and edgy typography, thrown together with an endearing element of wild abandon. But he is torn when it comes to how well the designers of the future are set-up in Brazil.
“In recent years many universities have created programs of graphic and digital design, so the profession gained much larger projection. Unfortunately there are not sufficient incentives for micro-entrepreneurs or even job opportunities, when compared to more developed countries.
“Even with the current economic growth, I think it will take a long time for Brazilian businessmen to think about the importance of design as seriously as in other cultures. It is still hard to survive with a small studio, for example. It’s always a struggle.”
But if design is under appreciated by the wider cultural community, what about advertising? The industry apparently attracts large sums of money, but Marcelo is unconvinced. “The quality of the creative work done by ad agencies in Brazil is still very sub par, especially if compared with London. Brazilian advertising is big business, but I believe that Brazil needs to break with the notion that copy is king, because by and large, the imagery produced along with these ads is very very poor, and I believe the lack of aesthetic discernment by the general population is a consequence of this.”
Rafael Varandas also expressed mild disgust at the country’s attempts at advertising when he described seeing a recent tourism campaign showing a photo of Brazil with the word “Sensational!” emblazoned across it. “It pretty much sums it up. It sells joy and beautiful colours in a pretty confusing and ugly package.”
Fernanda Sigilão, an account planning supervisor at the DPZ advertising agency, admits that Brazilian advertising tends to be relatively “old school.”
“Only a few agencies produce multi-platform content and have a creative and strategic approach towards digital, mobile and social media. Brazilians are among the world’s most engaged social media users and are happy to engage with brands. But brands and advertising agencies are still trying to figure out how to communicate and connect to the audience in this more interactive environment.”
She does point out, though, that although it can sometimes be dated, it still is regarded as one of the top advertising countries in the world. “Brazil has an international reputation for innovative, appealing print ads and commercials; many advertising agencies from Brazil (major ones based in São Paulo) have taken top prizes at Cannes and other international competitions. I believe much of our creative quality comes from the fact that Brazilians have a great sense of humour, are communicative and warm.”
Marcelo Gomes mentioned warmth as well. Two of those we spoke to mentioned joy in their interviews, three talked of passion. Gilles Peterson said that he probably already had a couple of thousand Brazilian records, and could probably have a whole heap more. Even when they began speaking with anger and frustration about the current unrest, the interviews always turned into a kind of cooing, grinning description of a country so wild and out of control, full of colour and sound. It seems that no matter what Brazil goes through, it always gets back up onto its feet, and whatever anger the people feel tends to fade away the minute someone turns the radio on. Gilles summed it up well when he spoke about his first visit. “I nearly drowned. We’d go off and go swimming and I went underneath one wave and the next thing I knew I was 200 metres out to sea. But yeah, for me it was like the beginning of a really long relationship.”