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Lelo & Su

Biography

Lelo and Su are two Brazilian artists who do graffiti in their free time. Lelo’s main occupation is in the field of cinema. Su studied art, but she makes and sells non-graffiti works for a living. Su does not have a specific, personal, language; the street is her “laboratory” to experiment. Her name as a writer is “suadona,” and it bears three meanings: a woman belonging to someone, woman sweating and mistress of the world. Usually, the tag name of a writer demonstrates the attitude of “I want to be the best.” Instead, Su’s tag name is a parody of typical writer name choices, it’s a joke, she is playing with words.

Report

We spoke with Lelo & Su, two young graffiti writers from São Paulo. They came to our hotel and the interview began shortly after their arrival. Lelo didn’t speak English, so Su tried to intermediate.

Graffiti in Brasil

Graffiti is very different in Brazil from the rest of the world according to Lelo and Su (even if it often seems influenced by American writers). Sao Paulo is the home of a very particular movement: “pixaçao”. This form of tagging looks aesthetically different from other styles. Pixacao are tags made on the walls of buildings all around the city. What differentiates them from normal graffiti is that they tend to span from the base to the top of the buildings in thick, concentrated, black characters, usually with messages towards the government or other gangs. “Pixaçao” comes from pixo, meaning tar in Portuguese. Originally, these tags were used as a form of expression for people that didn’t have a voice in society. All over the world graffiti means tagging, marking a surface with your name; here, instead, pixaçao was born as vandalism against dictatorship and higher social classes.

Lelo and Su say that the city is constantly growing so there are always walls to paint on, “graffiti must be seen and have an evolution.” In the 60s, writers were considered vandals. Pixacao was and still is the language of the poorest gangs in Brazil. In Sao Paulo these gangs are mainly located in the suburbs and generally have political intents, links to gang rivalries, or just want to show their individual strength.

Lelo was a pixadore in the past, but his philosophy on tagging has changed and today he prefers to bring a personal and cheerful style into the city, not a political one. He strives to please people and make Sao Paulo nicer to look at.

Lelo and Su’s work on the street is not paid; they just do it for personal pleasure and the satisfaction of knowing that they have somehow helped improve the face of the city.

The previous government was more supportive, or better, more tolerant, whereas the current government has denounced graffiti and has taken action to erase all forms of writing. The only way to prevent a work from being erased by authorities is to have permission from the owner of the wall.

Commercialization of Graffiti

Lelo and Su do not feel that commercial exploitation of graffiti art is evil: it can occur, but it is conceptually separate from the street work. According to Lelo, graffiti by definition is something that is done on the street.

A gallery, called Graphiteria, once invited Lelo to create a graffiti work. He accepted to do it, but he did not agree to sell the work because such an action would alter the identity of the work as graffiti. Moreover, he refused to alter his style upon the gallery’s request. In general, both Lelo and Su perceive the art community as closed, with a strong political influence. They mentioned some independent art spaces, but said that they almost never survive because they are not considered valuable organizations and thus don’t attract financial support.

The most important part of being a writer for Lelo and Su is the experiences they have on the street. The street is where they get inspiration, learn and communicate. The street is an experience also for those watching; writers want people to “stop and watch” in order for the public to appreciate their process of improving the view of the city and in order to avoid being alienated.

The graffiti community

Lelo and Su explained that they didn’t arrive to the graffiti scene with a certain style, they learned and evolved by doing. Usually they meet people similar to them in the street; there are no clubs or bars exclusively dedicated to writers. Meetings and collaborations are both non institutional (bars, events, skateboarding, etc.) and institutional (Paulista tunnel, commissioned by government). Some people form groups while others remain independent artists. There is a store, grappixo, where writers buy merchandise and materials. Lelo and Su usually dress in their own personal style, branded or not branded, it doesn’t matter. One of the biggest problems that young writers in Brasil are facing is the cost of the materials for writing.

 

by Alice Pellegatta

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