Batman’s Alley: the Boldest and Brightest of Brazilian Graffiti

There’s a huge amount of fascinating street art pieces throughout South America, and every time I take a photo of a particular piece of graffiti, I immediately think I should write a graffiti-focused post.

Maybe a “Top Ten Awesome Graffiti Pieces in South America?” or, as I’m steadily becoming more awestruck, “Top Ten Graffiti Pieces I’d Strongly Consider Getting as a Tattoo”?

 

My Facebook and Instagram feeds are constantly littered with graffiti shots – but no piece I’ve seen has never felt quite meaningful enough to be written about exclusively.

During my recent explorations in São Paulo, though, I came across a place called “Batman’s Alley” – somewhere with so much ridiculously photogenic graffiti that I simply had to write about it. This little alleyway holds a staggering amount of ever-changing pieces of graffiti, for a start; but it’s also a visual representation of what graffiti itself stands for.

And, ultimately, it’s the place where I started to realise what graffiti can mean to its city and its population.

São Paulo in black and white

In 2006, the mayor of São Paulo passed the Clean City Law, which banned all public advertising. Quite a remarkable act for South America’s largest city – not to mention one of the world’s biggest business hubs.

But as Vinicius Valvao, a reporter at Folha de São Paulo, Brazil’s largest newspaper, explained in an interview:

“São Paulo is a very vertical city. That makes it very frenetic. You could not even realize the architecture of the old buildings, because all the buildings, all the houses were just covered with billboards and logos and propaganda. And now it is amazing. They uncovered a lot of problems the city had that we never realized. Like the shantytowns. People were shocked because they never saw that before, just because there were a lot of billboards covering the area.”

Viewed by many as ‘visual pollution’, a great deal of São Paulo residents were very happy to say goodbye to the numerous signs, ads and giant billboards – but then the graffiti started to disappear too.

And with the graffiti wiped clean, São Paulo became a grey, washed out city. Walking around the financial centre, things were simply black and white. A myriad of office buildings competing for space; free from advertisements, sure, but also devoid of colour and imagination. I started to feel like the mayor had got things terribly wrong in his efforts to improve the look of São Paulo.

It took a journey to the top of Altino Arantes, the city’s tallest building, though, to realise that there may be more to this city than meets the eye.

Batman’s Alley: a Brazilian graffiti haven

In a country as vibrant and colourful as Brazil, it’s almost impossible to prevent people expressing themselves. And all around the world, graffiti is known as a form of self-expression. Which is why Batman’s Alley, in the quirky neighbourhood of Vila Madalena, was possibly the most expressive place I’ve ever seen.

On first arrival to this little street, though, it’s hard to absorb anything more than, “holy crap, that’s a lot of graffiti!”

The sheer skill and individuality displayed in every single different piece is staggering. Obviously, there’s a constant turnover in what’s visible along the alley, as an influx of artists consistently start afresh, covering up other work in the process.

It means you’ll probably never see the exact same pieces again – which is a very unique element of graffiti, as opposed to other art mediums. While certainly regarded as valuable by people in the graffiti community, there’s still no enforcement of preservation.

Graffiti is designed to be impermanent.

A lot of the graffiti pieces in Batman’s Alley are simply stunning; bold, brash colours, swirling shapes, a veritable feast for eyes and camera lenses alike. I had to keep stepping further backward in an attempt to capture everything – but then running forward to a new piece I’d just spotted.

But as you walk further, turning each corner, you slow your pace down, and really look at the details on the walls surrounding you. Little touches and particular elements begin to jump out; and you realise there’s a lot more to this alley than meets the eye.

Graffiti in São Paulo: what’s the significance?

Batman Alley isn’t just a colourful street meant for tourists to take photos. The place is positively brimming with ideas; with opinions; with worries and beliefs and convictions.

And the people who paint them have such visual minds that they’re able to paint their thought processes onto broken walls, in the hope that someone else will understand their train of thought.

So often, in cities and streets worldwide, you’ll see a single piece of graffiti that inspires you – one image, from one mind. But in Batman’s Alley, you’re attacked on all sides by a barrage of colour and confusion; a thousand different minds shouting their opinions by way of a spray can.

Some are explicitly documenting an element of culture, while some make comment about specific issues – like a constant concern that Brazil’s favelas may eventually face destruction.

Others express religious sentiments, or make slightly tongue in cheek observations about the current relationships in today’s world. The blue Indian Brazilian pops up all over São Paulo; his creator, Cranio, uses him to show the tensions between the modern life and the rural in Brazil.

Regardless of the theme, all these pieces have a meaning, and a purpose. And because we, as the audience, are unable to question the artists about their intentions, it’s up to us to theorise on what they meant to say.

Graffiti from an emotional perspective

Graffiti has never just been about pretty pictures. The very nature of the art form essentially ridicules that idea; an artist who faces the challenge to first find an appropriate space on public property for his art form, and then to execute it – all the while without getting caught, fined or even imprisoned for his actions.

And graffiti artists seem like they face a great deal of difficulty with their work. Unlike more conventional artists, who usually have a plaque next to their pieces in an art gallery, explaining who they are and what they stand for, a graffiti artist has to put his intentions across in every single piece of street art he creates.

But the cityscape of Sao Paulo is a unique space for graffiti artists. By dint of the mayor’s eradication of mainstream advertising, the city almost seems to have been gifted to them; like the advertisement of a fresh, new, city-wide blank canvas.

And I got the impression, from Batman’s Alley, that creating graffiti is ultimately an expression of emotion; whether it’s a passion for the art form, a way to communicate a belief system, or a love for the community it’s being presented to.

Or, hopefully, because painting the streets is a way to reclaim them, and make them better.

 

About Flora

Flora Baker is the founder and editor of Flora the Explorer, where she writes about her travels around the world, her volunteering exploits and her ongoing attempt to become fluent in Spanish by talking to anyone who'll listen. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus.

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27 Responses to Batman’s Alley: the Boldest and Brightest of Brazilian Graffiti

  1. colin farrel October 4, 2013 at 12:47 pm #

    This is amazing. It’s beautiful.

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:50 am #

      Glad you think so Colin!

  2. Claire October 6, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    This is really cool, thanks for posting.

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:52 am #

      Glad you enjoyed it Claire!

  3. Joe October 6, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    Love the elephant! Considering similar designs mixed with Mayan art for my back piece.

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:53 am #

      Sounds like a promising start :) I’m trying to work out how to combine this elephant and another incredible piece I saw in Cartgena.. Colombian tattoo artists are going to have a tricky time with me I think!

  4. BackPackerSteve October 7, 2013 at 10:24 pm #

    Hey Flora – my love to Streetart in South America made me click on this article. When I was in Buenos Aires I was amazed by the huge amount of fantastic art on the walls – I’ve never seen before such big murals.
    If you make it down to B.A. – let me know, I get you in touch with a pretty awesome streetart guy!

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:54 am #

      Argh I really want to get to BA, if only for the street art!! Will definitely get in touch with you for a street art contact :) Glad you enjoyed the article Steve!

  5. Naomi October 8, 2013 at 4:44 pm #

    I am DROOL-ING right now. Do they let you camp out there amidst all that art!? 😉

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:55 am #

      I’m sure the Brazilian police wouldn’t be too averse to one little tent in the alley – as long as you graffiti-ed it up good and proper :p

  6. Britany October 8, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Wow those walls are intense! I love it. Street art is one of my favorite cultural aspects of a city to explore. It reveals so much about the personality of the place, as well as current political and social issues facing the people at that time. One of the best parts is that its constantly changing, and people are constantly interacting with it, making it one of the most honest expression of a city’s current state. Looks like you uncovered a lot about Sao Paulo in this one alleyway. I’d love to see it some day!

    • Flora October 9, 2013 at 1:57 am #

      Street art is becoming more and more of a travel-related passion for me! Although I think we’ve been spoiled for choice in South America :p Totally agree with you about its time limit though – I think it makes people more emotional and expressive with their work because they know it’s finite. And who knows who’s going to be able to see it in that time frame?

  7. Liz November 10, 2013 at 6:03 am #

    Beautiful captures Flora, and really interesting story!

    • Flora November 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm #

      Thanks Liz! It’s a really fascinating place to visit.

  8. Art December 4, 2013 at 10:25 am #

    Peculiar article, just what I wanted to find. Here my video http://youtu.be/GEYoUqTwt-c

  9. Kenneth January 26, 2014 at 4:25 pm #

    Thanks for every other informative blog. Where else may just I get that type of info written in such an ideal
    means? I’ve a mission that I am simply now working on, and I’ve
    been at the glance out for such information.

  10. suneuys October 21, 2014 at 7:56 pm #

    Great article. We went to Batman Alley last week! Such a colourful place.

    • Flora October 26, 2014 at 6:07 pm #

      Isn’t it awesome?!

  11. Kacy July 8, 2015 at 5:17 pm #

    Great post! I just visited Beco do Batman this weekend, and it was interesting to see which pieces have remained and which have changed. I also linked to your post on my blog, great info!

    • Flora July 18, 2016 at 11:38 am #

      Thanks for the link Kacy – and great to hear that lots of the pieces are still there :)

  12. Güneş Akdoğan August 29, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    It was the best street I’ve ever seen. Colourful and full of art.

    • Flora July 18, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

      Isn’t it a stunning place Güneş? Glad you enjoyed it as much as I did!

  13. Ray January 13, 2016 at 5:05 am #

    Absolutely gorgeous photos! These murals remind of the graffiti that I saw in Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro. The favelas there are covered in beautiful artwork depicting everyday life in the slums. But, Batman’s Alley looks far more impressive. If I ever visit Sao Paolo in the future, then I am definitely making sure to check this neighbourhood out. Thanks for sharing!

    • Flora July 18, 2016 at 12:05 pm #

      You’re more than welcome, Ray – I definitely see Sao Paulo’s resemblance to the Rocinha graffiti too :)

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