Last week a law was passed in Brazil legalizing graffiti. But this doesn’t mean exactly what you may think. In Brazil, “graffiti” (grafite in Portuguese) refers not so much to the entire hip hop tradition of writing, but more specifically to colorful pieces, characters, abstractions, and other painted street art. In everyday speech, it’s often contrasted against pichação, which is Brazil’s home-grown style of tagging, so named because its first practicioners used tar (piche) stolen from construction sites. The semantic distinction echoes a sentiment I often hear here in the US: “I like the artistic stuff, but not, you know, those ugly scribbles.”
This distinction is part of what’s being put into law. What’s interesting about this law is that it appears to recognize the artistic and cultural value of the graffiti itself, not just the monetary value of the property it’s painted on. How will this play out in practice, I wonder?
Meanwhile, elsewhere in Brazil, graffiti is being taught in schools, recognized in an International Biennial, and receiving special protection from the buff. Sounds like a pretty civilized country to me.
Props and muito obrigado to Raquel Rabbit for the link, and for helping me out with the subtleties of Brazilian Portuguese. Read on for my poor (but better than Google’s) English translation of the first article above:
Author of the draft law 706/07, which decriminalizes graffiti, Mr. Geraldo Magela (Workers’ Party, Federal District) yet ruled on the request of the groups, Task Force FT Cruz and Recanto das Emas Crew who asked the mayor, Mr Arlindo Chinaglia (Workers’ Party, São Paulo) that the project be voted on as soon as possible.
Magela wants to see achieved this dream of young people connected to graffiti and recalls the need to separate grafite (graffiti) from what is a crime, pichação (tagging). “Graffiti is one of the elements of great importance for the Hip-Hop movement, whose actions raise the consciousness of many young people today,” he said.
The proposition amends Article 65 of Federal Law 9.605/98, which provides for punishment, without distinction, for whoever tags, paints graffiti on, or by other means harms facades of buildings or city monuments. In drafting proposed by Magela, the punishment will be increased in the case of crime against monuments that have landmark status due to their artistic value. Manufacturers of spray paint will have 180 days after the sanction of the bill to make changes in packaging, indicating the sale only for people over 18 years.
Another important point is the distinction Magela makes between tagging and graffiti. Graffiti will be recognized as “artistic expression” that seeks to enhance public or private property, as long as it’s done with the consent of the property owner, explained Magela.
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