Whilst the next Olympic Games taking place in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 will inevitably invite a maelstrom of attention from the international media as the date creeps closer, action sports events and urban art schemes offer alternative excitement in advance. In sport, Downhill Biking in Rio has established itself, significantly, away from the locations earmarked for the 2016 Olympic competitions – in the ‘slum’ areas, known as Favelas. In the last year, a number of articles have been written in support of the Favelas, stating their value as unique centres of Brazilian culture. Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn, known as Haas&Hahn, have seized the opportunity to develop public art projects based in Rio de Janeiro – aiming to draw attention to such areas of the city which are frequently represented in a negative light. Praca Cantao sits at the entrance to the Dona Marta Favela, and is just one example of how art has been used to develop the area, providing a striking backdrop to the MTB Downhill Circuit de Favelas biking competition – the latest in a succession of similar events.
In 2009, Red Bull hosted Desafio no Morro (Challenge in Morro, or Mountain Challenge) a downhill mountain bike race through the Favelas of Rio de Janeiro – the very first encompassed a biking route of 760 metres – however since then other competitions have sprung up in many other Favelas, organized by different organizations and individuals. The 2013 Favela Mountain Bike Circuit has routes that offer an even greater variety of distance and terrain. The video of the race demonstrates the immense control the riders require as they encounter the tightest of turns, speeding through alleys and down stairways at near-vertical angles – often excruciatingly close to the doorways of local residents.
Thiago Gomes, cyclist and organizer of the 2013 competition explains; “Mountain bike competitions generally take place in faraway places, in the middle of the woods, without any visibility – The Favelas bring visibility to the sport, to the riders and to the community.” Residents of the Favelas themselves are able to register to compete free of charge and winners share the prize money of $5000. Alongside this financial incentive, organizers have offered bike mechanic courses to young people and this year have introduced training courses in ecotourism.
As well as providing an awesome backdrop to the sports events, urban art projects have equally presented ‘hands-on’ opportunities to community members. Residents have contributed to arts-led, grassroots efforts to acknowledge and appreciate the richness in culture of these areas – often overlooked or subsumed by negative attention and representations in the media. Haas&Hahn’s community arts initiative Favela Painting is just one such example.
Haas&Hahn were first inspired to start an arts project after observing the optimism and creativity of the people in the Favela regions of Rio in 2005 whilst filming a movie about hip hop culture in these locations. Since then, the project has been made visible in numerous incarnations throughout the Favelas, including a 150-metre-squared painting of a boy with a kite, as well as a 2000-metre-squared Japanese style painting of a river similar in design to a tattoo. Praca Cantao is the most recent location to be painted to completion, transforming a run-down area into a beautiful tourist attraction. Watch the video here: