Milton Pereira de Oliveira:São Caetano
“The first time I saw a graffiti magazine and all that you could produce with spray, I couldn’t believe it. I became crazy about it.” This was 2002, a couple years after Baga has already started tagging. He knew and hung out with several of Salvador’s most notorious crews - DDT GLS, STI, GS, T. It wasn’t easy for him to start doing graffiti, he taught himself to draw, but wasn’t able to apply his designs to the street. After taking a class with Lee in Sao Caetano, he and others began to improve their technique. “I was dedicated to things that happened in the streets, people who didn’t value or believe in the potential (of graffiti). This is what strengthened me in my path alone.” At the time, Baga points out, Salvador’s public didn’t give the same support to graffiti that graffiti artists had in other Brazilian cities. “We faced a lot of discrimination. At the time, everything was pichacao, even if it was graffiti. We were taken to the police station, they’d take our materials, hit us. We suffered because of this repression, because of the lack of information on the part of the public.”
Like most of Salvador’s graffiti artists, it wasn’t easy for Baga to prove to his family that he wasn’t going to become some “lazy ass”, but that being a graffiti artist could be a meaningful profession. Today, he tells his mother, graffiti is the source of his income. In addition to getting commercial jobs on the side, Baga has been a part of the Salvador Graffiti Project since 2005. He credits the Project for helping transform Salvador’s perception of graffiti and for supporting artists to make a living off their art. He considers his work in the project as more commercial and that the artists involved work more as decorators than artists, helping paint schools and other public buildings, but lack complete artistic freedom and discretion. Baga reminds us that the Project got started during a round of public debates with the youth Ile Aye Hip Hop Network with the intent of ridding the city of pichacao. But since the start, people have seen that it wasn’t going to be possible because, as Baga points out, “pichacao is also a culture. It might be an illegal culture, but there’s no way to eliminate it, because it’s a virus that will always be present... Lately, there’s been less pichacao in the neighborhoods, and more in the center of the city.”
Baga is also an MC and is active in Salvador’s hip hop community. He credits hip hop with helping open his eyes to political and social issues that he never would have learned about in school or from his family. “Graffiti is a way to politicize youth, to show our identity in society. (And) hip hop is a way to critically view things, to learn about my rights in society, in the government. I read literature that is important for all of us - as artists, as MCs, anyone, as normal citizens - reading is the base. It’s reading that got me to thinking in this different way.”
Baga’s graffiti is ever-evolving, he is constantly studying, changing his technique, looking for ways to improve. He started out with images of people, today he works more on letters, realism too, and says that maybe in the future he’ll do 3-d. He shares advice with upcoming graffiti artists: “You want to be a graffiti artist, you have to study, draw, paint, everything, everything that you can study, you should study. Study the environment, look at your life, what surrounds you, inspire yourself, design, it’s that, art is life. While there is life, there will be art, and while there’s art, there will be life.”
Jocivaldo Santos Silva – Bigod
“Graffiti comes before everything. Everything I have today, I owe to graffiti. everything. everything. everything. everything I’ve ever made, that I have. that I don’t have. that I lost. everything I owe to graffiti.
Bigod’s interest in graffiti was sparked during high school, when drawing, playing video games, and reading comics all influenced his entry into the world of art. He remembers how impressed he was by graffiti when he first saw a piece done under a bridge from start to finish one day at his grandmother’s house. So many of his friends gave up on pursuing art as a career. “It wasn’t easy,” he said. “In the beginning, nobody supports you, especially here in Salvador, everyone wants you to have the right job, a paid salary.” But he dove in headfirst. He started making t-shirts, doing commercial jobs, and eventually began to use spray paint to do walls. “In graffiti, you have to make do with whatever materials you have. You can make art with anything.”
In 1998, he and Julio, his closest friend, started Nova10Ordem crew, one of Salvador’s most active crews today. “We ended up being a crew of people who felt alone, who never knew what was going on. So we formed our own crew.” He was hired early on to the Salvador Graffiti Project, and continues with them today. Through the Project he’s had the chance to travel - representing Salvador’s graffiti scene in Brazil and the world. He has also taught graffiti classes to newer artists and kids.
Bigod is best known for his infamous frogs, which can be found all over Salvador. They are each so unique, rich in color and style. One thing they have in common – they are frogs with an attitude. His frogs interact with the community where they are created, they transmit a Bahiano flavor, their personality makes them something you’d want to talk to. Maybe that’s because when Bigod goes to paint somewhere, he is sure to interact with the community: “I go to my community – or others’ even – places where people need to see something different. I like the idea of painting a cute little something where a cute little something needs to be painted. I like to cause discomfort in a community where discomfort needs to be caused. You get there, you paint, everyone going by likes it, they beep, they chat with you, they talk about graffiti in other places, you converse with them, getting to know them, their story, their community, you eat together, drink together…”
At the end of the interview I asked him what graffiti means to him: “When I stop to think, graffiti is my entire life. So if I were to say, ‘it’s work,’ you’re going to miss a lot, if I were to say ‘it’s recreation,’ you’ll be missing the full picture. And so, I wake up, I’m graffiti, I sleep, I’m graffiti, I walk, I’m graffiti. Graffiti for me is everything my mouth eats.”
“I think I’ll keep going, I don’t think I’ll stop, no. Because if I had thought of stopping I would have stopped. I said, when I’m 18, I’ll stop. I didn’t. Then, I said, when I’m 19, I’ll stop. I didn’t.”
Ciborg use to see Cupi and Sedex’s tags around the city, so after meeting them in a percussion class at the NGO Projeto Axé, he started tagging. He was 15. His vugo (tag name), “Ciborg,” he later learned means robot, or machine, in the skin of a human. “Your vugo has to be pretty and quick.” He prefers to tag during the day, “it’s so much more exciting. Everyone can see me.” At night, he reasons, “every cat is black… god help you if you get caught by the police. During the day they aren’t going to kill you, they’ll just take you down to the station.”
Like other pichadores, Ciborg ardently defends pichação, both its contribution to the city, as well as its impact on his life. “Shit, those big white walls would look so much prettier all tagged up.” He tags so that people will think he’s crazy, to call attention to himself. He tags to pay homage to a friend who has died, a girl he is hollering at, a family member with a birthday. “People think that pichação is bad, but I think it’s a good thing, I think sometimes people don’t accept it for the fact that they don’t know what’s written there. They think it’s reckless, messy, but it’s not. pichação isn’t as banal as it seems, it has a specific meaning, objective, origin, a certain culture. Pichando is protest, against the government, against the police, against the things that we think aren’t right, against the radio stations that play music with lyrics that have no meaning.”
Like most pichadores, Ciborg has had his share of run-ins with the police – getting arrested, put in jail, beat up, forced to paint over his tags, or stuck doing community service. But, he said, ever since the Projeto Salvador Grafita started, police brutality against pichadores has worsened. “The Project is cool, it’s good, because it decorates the city, makes it prettier. Graffiti is the positive side of it, the artistic side. Who isn’t going to like a little pretty thing? Who would a grafiterio be if it weren’t for the piche? Piche is first, and graffiti is the evolution of piche. Piche is the bad side. Everything has its good and bad side. But the pichador could do something social like the graffiti artist does. I think the mayor forgot about pichação when he asked them to do graffiti.” He wonders why the city couldn’t organize public events for pichadores like the ones for graffiti? “We should have an event too, where all the pichadores come out in public and have a big wall to pichar and get attention for our work. We should have a space too, once a year, only for pichadores.”
Ciborg was embarrassed to admit that there had been violence among pichadores that led to some deaths, referring to the turf conflict when King killed Fino at another pichador’s funeral. His account of the story normalized the death of two pichadores who died not because of pichação, but because of their involvement in dealing drugs. But, he couldn’t get over those who had died because of pichação. He rejects the idea that pichadores end up becoming criminals. “Many start out pichando when they are 15 or 16 years old, and then when they get older, some change, they become rebellious. I even went through hard times, but I don’t blame pichação, I blame myself. I don’t deny I was weak, it was stupid of me, but, thank god, I got out of that bad place.” Ciborg recently applied to work on the new soccer stadium, and hopes to get into a class to train to be a security guard. I asked him what he’d do if one day he becomes a security guard and he catches someone pichando? He laughed, “I’d ask him to write my name on the wall too!”
Dmac is one of Salvador’s “old school” graffiti artists - for more than 15 years he’s been on the street doing pichação, bombs and graffiti. He has a strong personality, he’s clear about his ideas, has a goal and is going for it. His interview was fascinating.
As a little kid he’d go with his mother from the periphery into the city - just so he could check out the pichação. “I liked to see it, it made me happy just to look at it.” There wasn’t much pichação at the time – just some by Asa, or Segonia. Later, in 1994, while working in Brotas, he started pichando. He met Grude, Rato, Soneca (from PLP), Tom, To Aceri (PPL) and Marcelinho (GPF). He describes pichação as an “expression of the streets,” but, “since I already drew, I started to feel limited, so, time went by and I started to get to know graffiti.” There were a few graffiti artists emerging in Salvador who inspired him like Peace, Cisma, Tom, Rude and Soneca.
The pivotal moment when Dmac decided to be an artist was when he spent two years in Itabuna, a small Bahian town, working a mundane job – one that had nothing to do with art – punching a time card everyday and unable to be free to live the life he wanted. “I didn’t want to answer to anyone.” He returned to Salvador in 2000 and decided to dedicate himself to art. He said bluntly “whoever is going to be by my side, is going to have to understand my situation, because I want to live by my art, whoever doesn’t want to have these conditions, I’m going to keep living my life, that’s what I want for me.”
When he got back he also took the entrance exam and began to study at the Fine Arts department of the Federal University of Bahia. But school wasn’t for him, it just wasn’t his thing. “Hey, college is awesome, you learn art, cool, the base is essential, really cool. But the people who are controlling the University today don’t value the artist. They don’t give you freedom to create. You’re always after the grade. The University is good for certain people, but it wasn’t my thing.”
In Dmac’s opinion, there isn’t enough appreciation, value, or space for art in Salvador. “The city is big, the work we should be doing should be big… But, there’s no space for art, there’s no market for art… People don’t understand that graffiti is public art, contemporary. It’s still not in people’s conscience.” He criticizes the graffiti artists who only paint in events, and prefers those who go out on their own, go to the corners of Salvador, find “a wall that’s dirty, one where you’ll appreciate the work, you’re not going to paint for everyone, you’re going to paint because you want to, for pleasure.” He wants the graffiti artists in Salvador to push each other to grow together, to raise the bar. “As long as we don’t stop, we’ll continue to be a reference for the new up and coming graffiti artists. As long as we don’t stop.”
Dmac was involved in the Projecto Salvador Graffita when it began, like almost all the graffiti artists in Salvador at the time. But soon after he was thrown out. “That’s when I got my freedom back. I don’t know why they threw me out. I don’t ask. They threw out a lot of people.” He respects the artists who are in it, who can get some money for their art and might not otherwise. “(The Project) was a good idea, a good base that Lee gave to us, but it was poorly administered. They put someone to administer it who was in charge of cleaning the city. I’m not negating the importance of those who clean the streets, but, we’re artists. And the guys in the project are not prepared - they should have classes for those involved.” He continues: “In a way, (the Project) made graffiti banal, made it all the same, made it normal. I like some of the walls, but some are so ugly. I’m like, damn man, you can’t! That guy is representing me man!”
Dmac likes to incorporate the weight of emotions in his art, and describes his style as “aggressive, tense” forcing the public to wonder what the personality is thinking or feeling. “There’s things you see in the everyday that makes you feel anguish, emotionally torn apart, beat up. Without being obvious, I want to put out the things that are causing me anguish.” Because he use to suffer from migraine headaches, Dmac illustrates emotions through the symbol of a migraine. “For me, the migraine crisis is the same thing as social inequality. Migraines are the same thing as violence. Migraines are the same thing as if you lose everything in your life, if a flood takes everything, you’re robbed of everything. Using red shows your indignation with society, how people are anguished by society, everything that is hard in society causes a migraine.” Dmac adds that he likes to always incorporate something African in his images – like the lips or the hands. “I like the expression of hands. The gesture of hands, for me, it is communication without words.”
Adriano Nascimento, 31, “Drico”
“For me, graffiti is... well, the money is great, but it’s a lot more than that. It’s about my life, it’s breath, its how I live. I can’t live without this street art, without being able to express myself, put myself out there, to be able to “vomit” what I want onto the street, what I feel, of happiness, sadness, what I want to convey to the street, it’s a moment of freedom that we have. Graffiti is unexplainable for me...” As a kid Drico loved to draw all the time, so early on, when he started noticing graffiti artists like Milton Punk and Peace in the streets of Salvador, he was inspired to learn graffiti. After taking Lee’s class in Sao Caetano, he met other artists, and started going out to bomb the streets. At the time (1995-96), there was a lot of repression and the stakes were high. Later he joined Oclan crew and started participating in the Ile Aye Hip Hop movement. In 2005 he was hired to work with the Salvador Graffiti Project, and continues with them today.
Drico prefers working in peripheral neighborhoods to painting in wealthier areas where the work is less appreciated and more likely to disappear from one day to the next. “When we work in a neighborhood, a community, we change the way people, children think - how they act in life, to see things with a consciousness. On Sundays he gives a free workshop to kids in a school, his message to them: “with graffiti, everything is in your hands.” He reflects on his contributions to the community - “because most of us are poor, we see the way we live, and we try to improve things, from our heart.”
“What I do isn’t community service, got it? I paint. I generate culture, style.”
Julio’s interview kept us all laughing, as he reclined in the chair, legs swung around the armrest, and he reflected on his path as a graffiti artist. His laid back style, sharp wit, and sense of humor made listening to him easy, enjoyable, and educational. Like Bigod, his best friend, Julio became interested in graffiti in high school. He started to get good work when he invested in a compressor and worked with airbrush making tee-shirts and doing commercial jobs, quickly paying off the 370 reais he borrowed to buy the compressor.
In 1998 Julio and Bigod founded what was originally called Nova Ordem (New Order) crew. Later, he met an Italian guy who asked him if he was a fascist? He said “’Yes! I’m a fascist!’ At the time, I thought anarchist and fascist were all the same thing. But then I got to thinking… ‘black fascist?’ I realized that ‘New Order’ was a German plan to change the planet and thought ‘damn! we’re supporting Hitler.” As a solution, someone suggested they throw a number into the name, so as not to radically change it. Adding the number “10” (pronounced “dez” in Portuguese) was perfect because, through a play on words, it negated Hitler’s concept of New Order by being called “New Disorder.” For Julio, Nova10Ordem isn’t just a group of guys he paints with or a way to make money. “It’s my Quilombo, a place where I can seek refuge when I’m being captured. I know it sounds romantic to talk this way, but for me, these are my tribal brothers.” (name members of the group?)
Julio prefers to paint in poorer neighborhoods, but not because he wants to help the community, rather, because of what he gains from it. He wonders why, if someone paints in a poor neighborhood, it’s considered community service, but if it’s in a wealthy area, it’s a job. “This is a really limited way of thinking. If we paint downtown, a gallery, or an association, it’s the same thing as if we’re painting in a community, but it wouldn’t be considered community service, so why should it be different if it’s in a community?” For Julio, painting in underdeveloped neighborhoods feeds him as much as it does the community where he paints, especially because of what he calls the “Bahiano type of intimacy with strangers.” “You get to a place to paint, and some guy you don’t even know is already calling out to you ‘hey fool!’ This happens a lot in Bahia, this intimacy. I was away from Brazil for two months, away from my friends. And when I got back here all I wanted to do was paint with them, eat feijao, drink beer, laugh, then afterwards go to the beach. That’s what it’s about, It’s not about community service.”
Julio had the chance to travel to Europe three times while he was working with the Salvador Graffiti Project. He deeply valued these exchanges and the exposure to so many new and different things, as well as the chance to share his own culture. He recently started doing sculptures and canvas, and using every cent he earns to build his house. Although graffiti has never made Julio much money, it has taught him to express himself with what he has. “If you don’t have a can of spray, you get latex to paint. If you don’t have latex, if you want to express yourself, you grab a pen and some paper to tag the wall. That’s Northeastern. But, if we’re talking about something that doesn’t give me any profit, “I’m sitting good on a thing.”
 Quilombo is the name of a community, refuge of escaped slaves
Pinel, from the EGS (Salvador Graffiti Squad) crew, is one of Salvador’s most prolific and prominent pichadores. Despite five years participation in the Salvador Graffiti Project, he admits he’s a pichador at heart. He started to tag in high school after seeing the guy next doing it. He couldn’t afford to buy spray paint, so he used pens, whiteout, and cazeiros (???). For years, he’d hit the streets in the middle of the night with a can of spray and a backpack, blanketing the city with new pichacao. Pinel ended up getting arrested 14 times – and has 14 fascinating stories to accompany each arrest. He lit up as he told story after story about his street adventures, from broken arms, to police painting his face, pichando police officers’ homes, to “scorando” buildings.
Pinel has a raw thirst to pichar. In the past he would do anything to get the money to buy spray – from selling cheese on the beach to laying bricks. He went through many phases of pichacão: scorando – the act of tagging one story higher than someone else, tagging only the ground, tagging phrases on buildings, tagging mostly in his neighborhood and tagging only wealthy areas. The crews back then use to compete by tagging the most risky places – the military police, official clubs, rich neighborhoods like Barra, or Aeroclub. Pinel recalls tagging the message “os fieis vem a rezar e agente vem a pichar” (the faithful come to pray, we come to tag) on churches.
For the public who see pichacão on the streets and ask “WHY?” in despair, talking to Pinel for a couple hours might help one understand. Pichando is a way to express himself, communicate with others, and take risks. He explains that pichacão is like therapy, a way to relieve stress. For him, it is a way to be noticed, call attention to himself – afterall, if he hadn’t been a pichador, he’s just be a normal guy. And, he points out, pichacão is a lot healthier than selling drugs, robbing or drinking, like the fate of so many of his friends. For Pinel, being a pichador means challenging the system and disrupting order. He points out that pichacao generates jobs for many – from police officers to painters with the Department of Sanitation. Even Graffiti artists gain work because of pichacao – since the public prefers to see graffiti and will pay to have graffiti in order to prevent future pichacao. He explains that pichadores risk a lot when they go out and tag. They leave their families, they spend hard-earned money on spray paint, they take risks with the police, the public.
After talking to Pinel we can begin to understand that the lack of opportunity and education can really be devastating in someone’s life. He told us many examples of tragedies that have happened with his friends and acquaintances who were pichadores. Some of these tragedies occurred only because of the environment of poverty – so it makes so much sense that they’d start to tag the city to try to get attention – even if for a few seconds, to say “I exist.” For the last five years in Salvador more than fifteen pichadores have died – some of them were involved in drug trafficking or crimes, others because of the reality they live in – poverty. They were all between 15 and 20 years old. Some of those Pinel mentioned included: Brad, Tron, Praga, Final do Beck, Capeta, Fibo, Jebo, Lepra, Smith, Vampi, Sinico, Gafa, Wante, Edge, Sala, Stufe, Stop. (it’s crazy to believe that not one of them had talent?!
Pinel has been a part of the Projeto Salvador Graffiti for five years, and credits his participation in the project to why he no longer goes out and tag the way he use to. He’ll occasionally do a bomb here or there, but mostly he’s putting up graffiti – images of cartoon-like characters with super-enlarged quadratic heads. In 2008 (?) he had the chance to travel with the Projeto Salvador Graffiti to Europe to display his art internationally. Pinel’s wife, Monica, is also a graffiti artist with the Projeto. They live together in Sao Caetano where they both grew up. They have two kids, who recently tagged up their entire house.
Senal is the only artist I interviewed who started out doing graffiti –characters mostly – and bombs, but later discovered pichação and liked it more. “Here in Salvador, people like to advertise themselves, and pichação is quicker and cheaper than graffiti to become known in and out of the city. Senal has been a street artist since the late ‘90’s, both influenced by old school writers in the city, and leaving his mark for new writers of today. Unlike some who join because its trendy, Senal said he became a pichador because “I wanted to express myself, to protest, and put my craziness on a wall. . I have so much love for pichação . I’m dedicated. I look for the best way to advertise myself through pichação . There was a period when I was psychotic, like a sickness, addicted to writing my name. But then later I calmed down, had less time for it. I met a girl, fell in love.”
Even though he has been caught more than twenty times by the police, Senal keeps pichando. “The more they get us, the more we’re going to stay in the streets.” He told a story of the time another pichador, who couldn’t take the repression, brought the police to his house after Senal had tagged a supermarket. They violently entered, beat up his mother and pregnant wife, and then they shot him in the leg (pointing to the scar it left). After another beating, he spent months in bed unable to walk, his shoulder dislocated. Countless times he was caught, arrested, had his materials taken, or they painted his face. There was the time on Seventh Avenue when the police threw away the spray paint they found on him and he crew, and then falsely accused them not of pichando, but of holding up a store.
In Senal’s opinion, police brutality increased when the Salvador Graffiti Project started. “To tell you the truth, I was scared when they started the Projeto because Joao Henrique put so many police against the pichadores. And these guys weren’t about finding us and putting us in the Project. They were about finding us and having fun beating the shit out of us, (or, have fun torturing us – preversidade), or even kill us.” I asked him why he doesn’t denounce the police after so much unjust abuse? “(What they do is) against the law, but we can’t do anything, unfortunately, because if we were to do something, we’d get in trouble - we’re also doing something illegal. They are the authority, there’s no way.”
Senal doesn’t blame pichação for the criminal activities of so many of his friends, he blames the lack of opportunities, jobs or a decent salary that so many of them face. For Senal to get money to pay the bills, he started selling drugs, and still does today. If he were Mayor of Salvador, he said he’d convert all the abandoned buildings into housing for the homeless or into factories for the unemployed. He would fix health care so there wouldn’t be such long lines to wait in. If he weren’t wanted by the police, he’d go back to school at night, or try and get a job with the Projeto. Leaving Salvador isn’t an option either – citing that so many people who go to Sao Paulo or Rio to find work end up worse than here.
“I take it all out on pichação . The anguish. The challenges of the day to day. The suffering in life. Confronting the system every day. For so many of us, pichação is a suicide instinct, a desire to die at any moment. I’ll be doing it for the rest of my life, until I die. It’s in my blood.” Ironically, as much as pichação has contributed to the precariousness of Senal’s life, I think it’s what keeps him alive.
Adelmo dos Santos Pereira – ZUNBI
Zunbi is one of Salvador’s old school graffiti artists - in 1995 he started pichando and doing graffiti. It all got set off in seventh grade, when a pichador who joined his class kept tagging his name on the desk. Since Zunbi liked to draw, he started tagging too. It was so early on in the graffiti scene in Salvador, that graffiti was mostly only along the Orla. Zunbi was one of the first to do graffiti in the periphery, Sao Caetano, when it was a novelty. “The people were crazy about it, talking about it from Castelo Branco to Liberdade.”
After so many years as a street artist, Zunbi has gone through a lot: “there’s always something that happens, something you didn’t plan on. You never go out and paint peacefully. Sometimes there are good things, sometimes disappointing.” One time he went loaded down with all his materials going by bike to paint in Pituba - far from his own neighborhood. The bike’s tire gave out and popped under the weight, forcing he and the other artists to walk miles to their destination. Another time he was painting in Barrio da Paz with looming rain storms that ended up washing out the work. He laughed when he remembered the time he was painting a house and since the owner hadn’t given permision afterall, all of his work was going to get pained over. Another time, after finishing his piece, he and all his friends were told the building was going to be torn down the next day. And then there was the time in Porto Seco while he and friends were painting on a factory wall, an armed guard came to stop them. Fortunately, the guard was supportive and respectful and encouraged them to return the following Sunday to finish their piece when the factories were closed.
Zunbi is a visionary, and has endless ideas for Salvador to support the graffiti artists. He thinks the Salvador Graffiti Project, which he was a part of for a year, is good in that it gives artists a job. He thinks it could have done more, however, to really sponsor artists - by supplying them with better materials, more access to information, and a space to voice their ideas and visions. Zunbi has been wanting to start a design library for graffiti artists, a quiet space like any library, where artists would have access to images and art. The place would offer technical support for drawing and graffiti, and support culture by offering a space to meet, hold events, exhibits, shows, etc. “It would be so interesting to have a space like that here in Salvador.”
Zunbi’s graffiti styles include painting characters, spraycans, animals, or faces. Like most of those he paints with, Zunbi has had little support, so everything he’s done has been out of his own pocket. “Even today I’m still waiting for a company to come and tell me they are going to support my art.”