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Paging through New York-born, Brazil-based street artist Tito na Rua’s Street Comics Vol. 1, a story of the search for lost love through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, I couldn’t help but become fascinated by the possibilities of a narrative being told in the streets, even though I’m not the biggest fan of comics or comic-based street art.
A comic book and street artist, Tito na Rua, otherwise known as Alberto Serrano, has become well-known for his combination of the two media. Tito’s street comics, spray-painted on the walls of Rio de Janeiro, feature Zé Ninguém (Joe Nobody), a provincial homeless migrant farmer, and his stray dog, Cão Viralata. Putting a face to issues of poverty and immigrant life using bright colors and simple lines, the story of Zé Ninguém’s search for his lost love, Ana, through the city appeals to both children and random pedestrians.
In Street Comics Vol. 1, the story is told through photos of Tito’s art on the walls, poles, fences and other public places around Rio. While the basic story itself is a little too cutesy for my taste, the larger issues raised by Zé Ninguém’s status and experiences as a migrant worker make the book, as well as the art itself, more meaningful in a cultural context.
What I found to be the most significant part of Street Comics Vol. 1, however — and of Tito na Rua’s work in general — is the possibility of interjecting narratives into street art. Since it is so hard to publish and even self-publish, why not write your own story in public space? What interventions into writing, as well as art, can be made if you create a narrative through street art?
Tito is not the first to use street art or graffiti to create a narrative; in New York, graffiti writer REVS wrote his own incredible autobiography in the subway tunnels beginning in 1994 and continuing for many years.
Like REVS, whose autobiography would most likely not be published anywhere else but a subway tunnel (at least not at that time), Tito na Rua uses street art to make a lower-class experience that is normally suppressed public. In the streets, the plight (even if it is a cutely rendered plight) of an immigrant in Brazil cannot be ignored and works to educate the public about these often invisible individuals.