Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Football Art: On the Streets of Sao Paulo

Every four years, from around a week before the World Cup gets underway, the people of Rua Fradique Coutinho begin to paint their street.

A sticker album provides the template for the adults to chalk outlines across the road.  The Brazil flag is in the centre, filling both lanes.  On one side is Fuleco, the colourful armadillo chosen as the competition mascot, and the badge of the Brazilian Football Federation.  To the other is the tournament emblem and flags of all 32 competing nations.  "It's the World Cup so it's only right to include everyone," one resident tells me.

The artwork is a community enterprise. "We let the kids paint when they're over 5," says a man in a Brazil shirt directing cars around the top of the national flag.  "It's how we all started.  Now the adults do the outlines and keep everything safe from traffic."  The murals are finished one side of the road at a time, two plastic chairs tied with string controlling movement on this busy Vila Madalena street. Drivers manoeuvre respectfully around the paintings, many blowing horns and shouting encouragement to the children working on the ground.  Other residents paint kerbstones and walls, string yellow and green bunting between trees or sit looking on from an open-front bar with a TV screen showing rolling football news and World Cup warm-up matches.  "You'll see these all over Sao Paulo's poorer neighbourhoods," says photographer and local fixer Caio Vilela. "When I was their age we used to paint on any communal wall we could find.  You really felt the World Cup was on its way."

On a neighbouring street we find Brazil flags strung across gates and car bonnets above a giant Fuleco image.  Families congregate outside, streetlights illuminating  the murals in what has become one of Sao Paulo's most fashionable locations.  "This is the only place in Brazil I've seen street signs warning cars to slow down because children are playing football," Vilela remarks.  "It's a remnant of the old Vila Madalena.  Nowadays you have the upper middle classes in high rise buildings, restaurants, film companies and art workshops.  That's why there's always so much paint around."

"This is what the tournament should be about," observes Spirit of Football's Andrew Aris as artists young and old break off work to pass around a ball that's travelled through 25 countries and over 17,000 hands on its way from Battersea Park, London, the cradle of modern football, to the streets of the country that, more than any other, is the beating heart of the game. "But the people who make football come far behind the chance to make money nowadays.  Money that could have been spent on them but that they'll never see."  On cracked tarmac, out of sight of FIFA's preferential lanes, unfinished stadia, exclusion zones and five-star hotels, the essence of the game endures where it began and always remained: on an open patch of ground, with shared endeavour and that simple, instinctive pleasure - irrspective of gender, nationality, class, caste, creed, colour, age, intellect or ability - that humans derive from moving a ball between feet.

Brazilian street football and neighbourhood art remains free in Sao Paulo and hundreds of other host cities throughout the FIFA World Cup.

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