The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Mar 11, 2013

Optimism in Rio de Janeiro's Favelas

Posted by kbalcerek

"Favelas: Architecture of Survival" at UNCC Center City building.

“Favelas: Architecture of Survival” opened this past weekend at University of North Carolina Charlotte’s Center City building. Featuring the photographs of Brazilian artist Pedro Lobo, the exhibition documents the shanty towns of Rio de Janeiro. Squatter settlements like Rocinha in Rio de Janeiro are home to one million of the one billion squatters worldwide, and it is the most densely populated community in the world.

Lobo’s photographs not only testify to the hardships experienced by residents of these squatter settlements, but also the optimism evident in the dwellers’ creation of home. The houses are created from rubble, scrap metal, discarded materials and pieces of plywood; they seem haphazard and vulnerable with awkward protrusions that defy gravity. Trash piles line the streets where dirty water pools and children play. And yet Lobo has captured the human dignity of the squatters: a yellow table cloth covers a dining room table; posters are tacked to walls, and broken bits of tile add decoration. There is organization to the chaos, a progression towards permanence and a sense of community.

"Rio das Pedras 10, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2003" by Pedro Lobo "Rio das Pedras 10, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil 2003" by Pedro Lobo.

The content of Lobo’s photographs are not the only thing that is striking. His use of vivid color grabs the viewer’s attention and its juxtaposition with texture and line is arresting. The hyper-realism of the images almost hurts your eyes. They are unavoidable, which is important because most of us want to turn away from these images of poverty and marginalization.

Pedro Lobo lives in Rio de Janeiro and Evora, Portugal, and he worked for Brazil’s National Center for Cultural Reference in the '70s and '80s, giving him exposure to these parts of Rio de Janeiro. Lobo won first prize for the photographs in “Favelas” at the TOPS IN International Photo Festival in Shenyang, China. A Fulbright scholar, he has studied at the International Center of Photography in New York City and the School of Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.

“Favelas: Architecture of Survival” will be on display until May 30, 2013.  In conjunction with the exhibition, students in UNCC’s Urban Design program talked to Rio de Janeiro community members through the Urban Ministry.  They then worked to design self-constructed homes for these communities.  The students’ models are on display in the front window of the Center City building. The opening reception will be held on March 22 from 6-8 p.m. with a lecture by Lobo and panel discussion on transitional housing in Charlotte.

UNC Charlotte Center City building: 320 E. 9th St., Charlotte; Open Mon.-Sun., 9 a.m. – 9 p.m.

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