In our second blog post we report on a secondment related to the CO-CREATION project from Dr Bryan Clift, a Lecturer (Assistant Professor) from University of Bath. He offers us insight into his month based at The Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (PUC), in the Department of Social Sciences, wherein he began developing the groundwork for the part of the CO-CREATION project based in Rio de Janeiro with Dr Christina Horvath, also from University of Bath.
After months of planning, logistics, and conversations with peers around the world, we—Drs Bryan Clift, Christina Horvath, Angela Paiva, and Sarah Silva Telles—are finally together to begin developing our ideas about Co-Creation here in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Together, we set several tasks throughout the month that Christina and I were in Rio. The most important of these was to begin developing relationships amongst those who might be involved.
Flying into Rio de Janeiro, Toni Marques was kind enough to pick us up from Galeão International Airport. Toni is a writer and journalist with Globo. He has written and contributed to several books, writing frequently on stories of crime and corruption in Rio de Janeiro. He also contributes to the organization of International Literary Fair of the Pacification Police Units (FLUPP), an international literary festival hosted in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro. On the way into the city, he drove us around and updated us with the latest city happenings. We were most thankful for the lift, not only for the ride but because the taxi drivers in the city were striking that day in response to Uber’s controversial presence in the city. The strike is just one of the many issues occurring at the moment within Rio. Since the Olympic Games, the city has seen drug dealers and criminal organizations flood back in. They are perhaps more daring than ever, Toni suggested. The route to and from the airport is one that they have recently targeted for stopping motorists to rob them—another reason we are glad Toni has offered us a lift so that we are prepared and informed if anything should happen. Shootouts have re-occurred all-too-commonly, with around 14 happening per day. Such is the extent of the shootings that local residents have developed a website and an app, Fogo Cruzado, in order to track and send out alerts about the shootings. The stark social inequalities here have persisted for some time and Toni indicated they are getting worse in the midst of the political and economic crises in the State of Rio de Janeiro and the country. Seriously and absurdly, he remarked that being robbed in the city was a form of social tax: you pay not to be injured.
Within a few days of our arrival, we met in the flesh at last with our academic partners at The Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (better known as PUC, or poo-key), Professors Angela Paiva and Sarah Silva Telles. Angela is a professor in the Department of Social Sciences and the current Vice-President for Academic Affairs at the PUC-Rio. She was one of the founders of Nirema – Interdisciplinary Center for Reflection and Afrodescendent Memory, which coordinates research on racial inequalities. Her research examines themes around social inequalities, rights, social movements, citizenship, race, youth, religion, and education. Sarah is a professor in and current Coordinator of the Department of Social Sciences. Her focus is on urban sociology, examining themes such as poverty and social inequality, favelas, popular housing, migration, family, and social mobility. In that first meeting, and wonderful hospitality aside, we began to brainstorm and set out some of the specifics we previously discussed but had yet to finalize.
Principally, we spoke of what we all envisioned for the programme: Who might be involved; which favela with which we might strive to work; what issues may be relevant; literature to consider; methodologies we could consult; and the kinds of art that we might incorporate. Prior to our arrival, Angela and Sarah discussed several potential favelas where the project may be relevant. With contacts in several of them from their previous research, they spoke with one community leader of favela Santa Marta, Itamar Silva.
In our first meeting with Itamar he walked with us through the favela to explain some of its history. He also introduced us to Sheila Souza, the founder of Brazilidade, which is a critical tourism business that supports the residents of Santa Marta and facilitates challenges to perceptions of favelas. She also guided us through the favela detailing some of its history and recent changes. Santa Marta is a favela on the edge of Botafogo that began in the 1930s and currently has approximately 6000 residents. There are two entry points, one from Rua São Clemente in Botafogo, and one at the top of the favela close to the Dona Marta look out point that passes through the recently occupied UPP facility. The favela is now bounded on the left and right sides. A cable car ascending and descending the mountain encloses the favela on one side, and on the other is a recently constructed wall. In 2009, the government constructed this wall to delimit favela growth into the forest and closer to wealthier areas. Santa Marta is notable for several reasons, most recently because it was the first favela to undergo pacification and was held up as the model for the process across the city.
Our initial group meeting in Santa Marta began by speaking with Itamar and walking to the building where a local community organization, ECO, has its headquarters. ECO began in 1977 is an educational and cultural organization that aims to support and develop the people and community of Santa Marta. Itamar, like his father before him, is a community leader in Santa Marta, especially with youth and residents who take interest in the social issues of the favela. Itamar’s son, Gabriel, generously translated between the group and us. Itamar and the group members of ECO expressed interest and excitement in the idea of a participatory and creative approach to addressing stigmas of favelas in general and Santa Marta specifically.
Itamar and ECO are motivated to participate by the potential to change the vision and perception of Santa Marta. He posed several questions for us all was: “How do we make this happen?”; “Who are ‘we’?”; and “Why do we accept you here?” In seeking to bring together artists, activists, residents, and researchers, our work together would need to collectively construct a response to the questions he posed. In addition to several issues of which we needed to be aware—such as, attentiveness to peoples’ schedules, potential locations where we might host the summer workshop, and communication between everyone—he stressed that there are many voices in the favelas that need to be heard: We can be a bridge for these voices, he articulated. If art was to be the central medium in through which the issues of the favela might be expressed, Itamar was confident in the range of artistry happening: Painting, sculpture, found art, murals and graffiti, dance, music, and written forms all currently feature in Santa Marta.
We concluded with two central understandings: This would require commitment from all involved, and that at the moment the project is relatively open. The first of these may appear self-evident but the second less so. In this co-creative project, this openness is less a sign of lack of focus or organization and more so an opportunity for us all—researchers, leaders, residents, and artists—to think about what we might accomplish together. This lack of a clearly delineated plan gives space for research as a democratic process to transpire. Our collective commitment to the ethics promoted through this participatory and creative endeavor is key for working toward the inclusion of all participants as significant contributors.