In this blog Ben Spencer, Sue Brownill, Oscar Natividad from Oxford Brookes University report on an international conference on 27-28 June 2019 organised by Sarah da Silva Telles from the Catholic Pontifical University Rio de Janeiro (PUC) and Itamar Silva from Grupo Eco, an organisation based in the Santa Marta favela.
Over two action-packed days at PUC, Sarah and Itamar gathered together a wide range of artists, participants in social projects, political representatives, teachers, researchers and students. The aim was to promote exchanges of knowledge, experiences, politics, culture and art around the challenge of reducing inequalities and distances between the periphery and centre in cities in general, and in Rio de Janeiro specifically.
Sue Brownill and Ben Spencer opened the conference by introducing the Co-Creation project and posed some key questions: What do we understand by Co-Creation? Are there different perspectives on Co-Creation from the global north and south? To what extent is Co-Creation simply co-option by the state? Does Co-Creation address the causes of polarisation and marginalisation or is it just ‘artwashing’ painting over the cracks? How can Co-Creation be a useful tool for community action and how can we measure its impact?
Sarah and Itamar then provided some background to the situation in Rio which, like the rest of Brazil, is facing severe structural problems including worsening security, increasing inequalities and the reduction of resourcing for universities and other public institutions. Following this they reflected on the Co-Creation workshop run in Santa Marta in August 2018 (see the blog). Itamar explained how the workshop had successfully increased local networking and through powerful art workshops had enabled debate around difficult issues including racism, vulnerability of public spaces, the role of tourism and the impact of the police Urban Pacification Project (UPP). Other benefits had been economic, through money spent on catering in the favela and recognition of the importance of informal social gatherings for building relations and as an act of resistance.
A series of panels over the two days then invited participants to share and discuss their work, experiences and thinking freely with the participants. The first panel on The favela and the periphery in the city: public space, its transformation and main challenges picked up on many of the themes raised by Itamar and Sarah. Orlando Santos Junior (IPPUR at UFRJ) talked about the fact that cities were now under siege with rampant coercion, repression, criminalisation and assassinations through military urbanism. He explained his emerging thinking about this approach and associated public action, which he termed ‘anti-social’ movements and the challenges this created for achieving social transformation in this context.
Adriana Sansao (LabiT-PROURB-FAU / UFRJ) then introduced her work on tactical urbanism, showcasing interventions using short term, low cost interventions in Rio streets to reimagine public spaces. This was followed by Fernando Espósito (PUC) explaining his research on how the spaces around cable-car pillars installed in the Alemão favela had been appropriated over time. These included playful, artistic, economic and residential uses but were most frequently places of confrontation with the police.
Eliana Sousa Silva from the non-profit Redes da Maré explained the long term work of the organisations in the Rio favela that has a population the size of a small city. One programme had been courses preparing residents for university exams, this had been successful in raising university access from 1% to 4% of the population since the 1990s. She emphasised that solutions to problems were in the favelas and how Redes da Maré had also worked through networks to address issues of memory and identity, health and public safety in a context where resident’s rights as citizens were denied.
Oscar Natividad, a PhD student from Oxford Brookes, then introduced his work on community social networks and his plans to do research in Santa Marta. He encouraged anyone interested to get involved with his project.
Andre Lima Alvarez (PUC) rounded off the session by showing a video produced collaboratively with Paulo César da Costa Gomes (UFRJ) examining the place of the citizen in public spaces in Rio de Janeiro, including Santa Marta. He explained how the film was a powerful tool in providing different perspectives on the use of space and raising issues on its use for conviviality and mobility.
One theme running through this panel was the role of universities. The importance of acknowledging and understanding multiple realities and forms of knowledge was emphasised. This needed wider engagement with marginalised communities and the ongoing work of varied, critical and engaged researchers moving on from the previously dominant white, male and western form of knowledge.
The afternoon panel focussed on the challenges of Rights and violence in stigmatised spaces. Marcia Leite (UERJ) set the scene by describing how the UPP, including a parallel social programme had been a government policy developed from 2008 in advance of the World Cup 2014 and 2016 Olympics mega-events with the aim of reducing social conflict. She argued that this constituted police re-establishing state control from crime gangs through conflict, coercion and consent, resulting not in social inclusion but ‘economic inclusion’ as entrepreneurs through the market. However she noted that the ‘UPP Social’ had been short lived and had not produced a sustainable legacy, leaving the UPP focused on coercion. The question now was how to produce order, with increased militarisation and the use of new technology, such as drones, and an ethos of ‘kill anyone who threatens the good people’ propounded by new Justice Minister Sergio Moro.
Jose Claudio Sousa (Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro) described the situation in the Baixada Fluminense (the urbanised lowland region around Rio). Here the militia, informal military groups with undisclosed support by the government operate widely against drug gangs. Jose described this as ‘poverty management through state war’ with residents of the Baixada branded as enemies and extra-judicial killings frequent. He discussed how, instead of leading a state war against potential insurgent spaces, it would be more productive to activate abandoned buildings with social activities, to prevent drug trafficers taking control of such spaces.
Pablo Nunes (Center for the Study of Security and Citizenship https://www.ucamcesec.com.br/) used the work of the Network of Public Safety Observatories to provide detailed statistics emphasising the deteriorating security situation in Rio de Janeiro.
Repper Fiell, a rapper and activist from Santa Marta supported the view that the UPP had been militarization not pacification. He stressed how the banning of Funk Baile parties in the favelas had been a cultural violation, denying residents of the city both economic opportunities and the chance to meet and communicate, arguing that ‘culture is the time when you can provoke changes’ and a way of connecting with young people. He handed round copies of a booklet he had developed to inform Santa Marta residents of their civil rights and how to respond to police in differing situations using simple language and cartoons. This act of empowerment and resistance had resulted in Repper Fiell being personally targeted by the police.
Finally, Palloma Menezes (Federal Fluminense University) described how increased militarisation went hand-in-hand with increasing vigilance. Police, drug gangs, militia and residents were all watching each other resulting in psychological tension on all sides and residents needing to ‘live with two [or more] gods’ anticipating and judging risks from all sides resulting in very high feelings of insecurity across the Brazilian population. This fear had been exploited in political terms by the right-wing gaining votes.
In the discussion, panellists stated that resistance was possible through movements which found new energy through initiatives such as Fiell’s booklet, a radio station in Santa Marta and an information sharing group along with the co-creation of a Dictionary of Rio Favelas produced as a tribute to and in support of the ideals of the murdered Rio human rights activist and councillor of the city of Rio, Marielle Franco, a social science student at PUC-Rio.
Day two started with a powerful piece of drama from the play ‘Encruzilhada Feminina’ (Women’s Crossroads) performed by Rachel Barros (FASE). This seven-act production had been written to highlight the experience of black women surviving aspects of their lives including urban mobility, employment and education in the context of racism, misogyny and homophobia. The play had been designed to be performed where it was needed – in a wide range of locations from the street to the theatre. Rachel went on to describe the militarisation of marginal areas in the periphery and the experience of racism through state actors in the form of police and health agents and the challenge of combatting the violent politics of the current State. She argued that human rights had fallen away since 2016 in Brazil and that basic rights needed to be fought for.
This gripping start to the panel on The role of black women and indigenous women in the favela and periphery: racism and challenges was then continued by Monica Francisco (State Representative for Rio de Janeiro from the PSOL Socialism and Liberty Party https://www.rioonwatch.org/?p=50926). Monica spoke about the need to fight and resist in challenging times where life was precarious and black women were objectified, dehumanised and daily on the front line. She saw the crumbling of the myth of a Brazilian non-racist democracy as positive, through acknowledging the reality of black people’s experience of extreme inequalities, violent disrespect and an ongoing genocide.
Next Fernanda Vieira (an indigenous writer) read her poem about waking up and deciding to be white which addressed identity, race and access to the city. She explained the situation of indigenous people in a state which seemed to have the desire to erase indigenous peoples and accentuate negative stereotypes. Fernanda highlighted the differing understanding of the world by indigenous peoples, such as human relations with nature and the experience of time. She went on to argue that white feminism was not sufficient for indigenous women and that spaces for effective listening were needed (and had been since colonisation in 1492).
Rogeria Nunes (PUC) presented her research on the feminization of power ‘Where are our Marielles?’ (referring to Marielle Franco). She had spoken to 50 women who made a difference in the peripheries and who were from the favela. Rogeria had found that they were operating through schemes focussing mainly on assistance, health and culture. Discussion then moved to the importance of culture and language to fight stigma and discrimination through engaging with youth and creating counter-narratives.
This debate linked directly to the final panel on The representation of urban inequality through art: literature, cinema and graphic art. Vivi Salles (a poet, founder and publisher of Corner Poetry from the City of God favela) started the session with a poem about the state governor: ‘A missile in Witzel’s Ass’ (provoked by the governor stating that he would like to fire a missile at the City of God https://apnews.com/69c0f0b46a544ce69aa1a16c14a08dd7) going on to describe the challenges of organising events in the unpredictable security situation where opportunities were already reduced. Leandro Tick (graffiti artist from the Trabajara favela) described his development as an artist and involvement in educational and cultural projects including a graffiti tour in his neighbourhood. Paulinho Soro (a pichador from Rio) then described his political motivations for his work, which had included writing on the Christ the Redeemer statue.
Aline R. Pachamama (poet, publisher and historian of the indigenous Puri people) explained how important it was to provide a history and voice for indigenous peoples. She felt that her publishing house acted as a movement to facilitate these ends and how the values of the company were informed by political and environmental concerns. She highlighted how indigenous communities are not invisible, as many claim recently, but that they have been historically “invisibilised” by political and cultural structures.
Adair Rocha (PUC) provided historical context explaining how slavery normalised the current situation in favelas that were still seen as being apart from the city. Using Gramsci’s concept of organic intellectuals, he argued for the need for education through community schools and scholarship programmes to boost the number of black students at universities. He then introduced Yasmin Thayna (filmmaker from Afroflix) who showed clips from two of her films. The first was a film about a big children’s party held in a favela household using black archive material. The second, Kbela (2015) was based on black culture relating to hair. Yasmin explained how she had moved from film school in the municipality of Nova Iguacu in the Rio metropolitan area to PUC’s course.
The final panel discussions were very rich, inspired by all of what had gone before. They included the import role of the artist in teasing and provoking those in power, creating new narratives and concepts in the city, preserving and sharing memories and giving space and inspiration for others to find a voice, debate and take action.
At the end of the conference Sarah Telles reflected on how many of the questions raised about co-creation had been spontaneously covered in the panel debates. She stated that co-creation was a form of resistance, fighting back against violence and providing hope. Sue Brownill underlined this by saying how Co-Creation in Europe could be heavily influenced by the state; what is happening in Brazil shows the power of Co-Creation in the face of the withdrawal and militarisation of the state. Itamar added that there was a need for multiple voices and that those on all sides, but especially academics need ‘to listen more’. Finally, he said that there shouldn’t be a conclusion to the conference as Co-Creation was a work in progress.