Rio de Janeiro 2017-2018

Rua Santa Helena is a street in Vila Cruzeiro, one of the many favelas in Rio de Janeiro. In 2008 we completed a giant painting of Koi carp swimming upstream on this street and named the project Rio (‘river’) Cruzeiro. The design was made together with Amsterdam based tattoo-artist Rob Admiraal. After almost a decade since its realisation, time has taken its toll on the painting. Due to sunlight, rainfall and playing children who use the steep hillsides to play slide, in some parts the paint has almost completely faded.

It became obvious that the artwork needed some serious restoration. To repaint it however - would only recreate the same problem in the future. Together with the community, it was decided to use a more sustainable solution and recreate the entire painting as a gigantic mosaic. Favela Painting has teamed up with a local organisation, Cosmonauta Mosaicos, who are specialized in urban interventions with mosaics. A crew of local women have been trained in the technique of mosaics and have started the immense task of recreating the faded artwork.

The brick houses alongside the artwork on Rua Santa Helena are also receiving a transformation. Starting from the street level entrance of Rua Santa Helena reaching all the way to the top of the hill.
A combination of pigmented lime stucco and contrasting tiles creates a sustainable, long lasting layer. The playful design follows the existing architecture while creating an enveloping effect, visually connecting all the houses together. The owners pick the colours for their own property.

For this extensive task, we assembled a crew of local masons. We found a Brazilian architect who specializes in restoration, preparing and applying lime stucco, to instruct them. The crew delivers high quality craftsmanship with a keen eye for detail. 
Neighbourhood youth, contracted as apprentices, were trained by the more experienced crewmembers. Other locals were trained in general production to organize and run the project in a flexible and autonomous fashion. Close contact with the Favela Painting HQ in the Netherlands is kept for designs and logistics. Furthermore, one of the neighbours cooks lunch for the whole crew every day.

Ironically, Favela Painting is not using paint for the Santa Helena Project. For this specific assignment, we came to the realisation that we had to start using more sustainable materials. In cooperation with local experts and architects we developed a new workflow, using pigmented lime stucco and tiles. These materials are common and locally available. Not only will the new exteriors of the houses last much longer, the homes themselves were improved beforehand. Defective walls were repaired and messy electricity lines were cleaned up.

Producing lime is much cleaner than regular cement and most of the CO2 released during the manufacturing process of lime is re-absorbed during the lifetime of the lime stucco. It is therefore close to carbon neutral. It is permeable, flexible and workable. Ideal for Rio de Janeiro’s weather conditions.

Santa Helena is an ongoing project and Favela Painting is continuously looking for partnerships and funding to complete the entire mosaic and the surrounding houses.