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A spate of massive #BlackLivesMatter murals have emerged in the Brazilian city of São Paulo in the wake of the police killing of João Alberto Silveira Freitas, a Black man, outside of a supermarket in Porto Alegre in early November. Freitas’s death is the latest in a centuries-long record of racist violence in Brazil, where more than 75 percent of the 5,800 people killed by police last year were Black.
The sprawling, blocks-spanning street murals are the work of a diverse collective of artists and cultural producers from São Paulo known as Nós Artivistas. More than 30 people participated in the creation of the first mural, #VidasPretasImportam — #BlackLivesMatter — outside of the São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) on the evening of Friday, November 20, the day after Freitas’s death, working well into dawn on Saturday to complete the project.
Subsequent murals spelling #SilêncioÉApagamento (“Silence is Erasure”) and #OFuturoÉUmaMulherPreta (“The Future is a Black Woman”) were painted on the Minhocão, a two-mile elevated highway in the city, and the central avenue Nove de Julho, respectively.
Nós Artivistas hopes that the MASP mural will become part of the museum’s permanent collection; the group plans to file a formal request for its acquisition this week. (MASP has not yet responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.)
Netto Duarte, an artist, cultural producer, and member of Nós Artivistas, said the group was driven by “a feeling of pure revolt” at seeing the images of Freitas brutally murdered by police.
Security camera footage obtained by the weekly television broadcast Fantástico shows Freitas forcefully escorted out of a Carrefour supermarket by two security guards, who proceed to brutally beat Freitas, knock him to the ground, and pin him down with a knee on his back and neck. Freitas died of suffocation, according to CNN Brasil; the guards are being investigated for homicide. The killing occurred on the eve of Dia da Consciência Negra (Black Consciousness Day), observed annually on November 20 to commemorate the death of Zumbi, a Black activist and former enslaved person who fought to free others from enslavement.
“Another Black body murdered in the middle of the Black Consciousness holiday was yet another blow to a people that no longer supports the violence of the state and this racist structure in which we live,” Duarte told Hyperallergic in an interview.
“We would like to celebrate our powers, in all areas, to say how proud we are of our ancestry, but structural racism does not allow us to (yet). These words mean, first of all, the resistance of a people that got tired of writing a disapproval note,” he added.
As historic protests against systemic racism continue in the US, Brazil is facing its own reckoning. The words “Black Lives Matter” resounded across the nation as early as this spring, prompted in part by the fatal shooting of 14-year-old João Pedro Mattos Pinto by police in a favela in Rio de Janeiro just a week before the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Although more than half of the Brazilian population identifies as preto (Black) or pardo (mixed ethnicity), people of color continue to face systemic discrimination and major socioeconomic disadvantages in the country. The recent killing of Freitas has brought a new wave of demonstrations and demands for racial justice.
Giant street murals spelling “Black Lives Matter” and other anti-racist messages in large block letters have become ubiquitous symbols of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US and beyond, surfacing everywhere from Brooklyn to Toronto.
“The idea is that it will reach the largest number of people. That has the capacity to bring reflections and deepen the debate on structural racism,” Duarte said. “Let this phrase echo in the peripheries of the whole city and who knows, of the whole country, but we want much more!”
In addition to punishment for racist crimes, he says, the group is fighting for structural change, including more representation of people of color in decision-making positions in Brazil.
“Of course, we have white brothers and sisters who join us in this fight against structural racism, but the spaces of power need to be occupied by ours who are the majority in this country,” Duarte continued. “That’s about it! We need to live from a new perspective. It’s about building an anti-racist society. It is for everyone to know that all lives matter, but the extermination is over our people.”