São Paulo Insider: Mundano

An enormous green monster was my introduction to Mundano the legendary São Paulo street artist. An emerald-colored ghoulish face painted on the side of a wall is one of Mundano’s trademarks, but the twenty-seven-year-old whose name comes from the Portugese word world (mondo) plus human (humano) has become much more than just one of Brazil’s graffiti gods. He has used his talent and his conscience to try to wake up the city to positive change. Like many Brazilian street artists, Mundano began by just signing his name in spray paint. But as he prowled the streets, he noticed things that he wanted to change, so he focused on graffiti with social, political and environmental messages. In fact, he has declared himself to be an ARTivist (artist plus activist.)

His headquarters in São Paulo sits not far from Batman’s Alley, the celebrated street of graffiti and ground zero for the city’s street painters. Its façade is emblazoned with a furry creature that is not one of Mundano’s paintings but collaboration is another one of his trademarks, so his “club house” serves as a gathering place and gallery for artists and other activists. “Everything I see I paint, but always with a direct message to make you think about the world and its problems,” he says, “and making a change because I believe that art can do that.”

Five years ago he started one of his most visible projects when he painted what he says was something invisible. The trash collectors of São Paulo, who are like the untouchables of India but who perform an invaluable service to the city, were to Mundano unseen by most residents. The Carrocas, as the trash collectors are known for the carts that they pull, became moveable slogan boards for Mundano and other artists. He points out that they do back-breaking work to support themselves and their families by recycling waste, which benefits everyone in the city, and yet are treated horribly by locals. So he started a project to give them “visibility, self-esteem and recognition.” He began decorating their carts, writing slogans with political messages on some like “My cart does not pollute.” Or “If I could, I would recycle the politicians.”

Over time he invited other artists to join him and through crowd funding (Catarase, which is Brazil’s version of KickStarter) raised money to start Pimp my Carroca, a collaborative project in which more than 400 residents volunteered to “pimp” the carts of the trash collectors, repairing the carts as well as painting them and adding mirrors and better wheels for safety. The garbage collectors and their families were given medical check-ups, even massages and counseling, while their carts were spruced up. And at the end of the day, the volunteers and garbage collectors joined together in a peaceful demonstration demanding that the city set up official recycling cooperatives.

Mundano has brought the same project to other Brazilian cities like Rio and Curitiba and when we visited him, he was getting ready to go to South Africa to discuss a similar project there. “Change comes slowly,” he acknowledges but it does seem to be coming. He showed us one of this graffiti pieces with a city minister piled into a trash collector’s cart as some of the garbage that needed to be recycled. “Actually, I am meeting with that minister next week,” he said. “That may be a little awkward, but at least he is starting to listen.”

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Published onApril 20, 2014

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