In the months prior to leaving Brazil I’d written about walking and psychogeography as means of finding new ways to see, explore and understand the complexities and unseen beauty of São Paulo. It was fitting then, that during those final few months I became increasingly aware of a stencilled call to arms which seemed to echo my own advocacy for urban exploration:
In the context of an iconic SP location like Parque Ibirapuera – where I took the photograph above – ‘ver a cidade’ (see the city) seems to convey a fairly straightforward observation: look how beautiful our city is.
Pretty landmarks, though, are not its author’s only canvas. Courtesy of ver a cidade, abandoned buildings and crash barriers along highways now also beg our attention, and its message becomes more nuanced: ‘we need to see all of the city, the good and the bad’. It should also be noted that in Brazilian Portuguese ver a cidade is used as a pun as veracidade (veracity), something which adds to this idea of seeing the wider reality of São Paulo.
Intrigued by who was responsible, I consulted my Paulistano ‘followers’ on Twitter, and I wasn’t let down because within minutes of posing the question, ‘Does anyone know who does the ver a cidade tags?’, three different people not only informed me that it is Mauro Neri da Silva, they also sent me links to articles about him.
Whilst browsing one of them, I was glad to discover I’d not entirely misread Mauro’s intentions: ‘the goal is to investigate and show, cartographically, the conceptual and aesthetic aspects of the megacity of São Paulo’.
However, what’s also clear is that Mauro’s ver a cidade is as much a political statement as a psychogeographical one: “The urban sprawl is a sore on the planet and its healing is only possible from the peripheries…Here, where there are less ‘views’, the government directs less investment”.
The peripheries Mauro speaks of are the margins of the city in which the working poor live in self-constructed houses or, further out, favelas: a parallel universe to urbanised and affluent central neighbourhoods such as Jardins, Higienópolis and Vila Madalena.
Thus, Mauro is an artist of a truly Paulistano tradition: pichação. Pichadores – most of whom are from SP’s peripheries – cover whole swaths of the city with their chaotic yet intriguingly runic-like scrawls. They are a reminder to those in the centre that they exist and they are not willing to be ignored.
Instagram is about as far removed from the raw authenticity of Mauro and pichação as you can possibly imagine. Largely a circle jerk of selfies (#selfie), food (#foodporn) and day-to-day banality (#banal) it’s in many ways a worrying reflection of a society sleepwalking towards narcissistic self-absorption.
It is possible though, if you are willing to dig around, to find all sorts of interesting curiosities amongst the mountain of ‘me me me’. From São Paulo, for example, there are a number of accounts heeding Mauro’s advice, although via social media they’re not just seeing the city but sharing it as well; through them Mauro’s message spreads.
Then there’s São Paulo Walk which describes itself on its Facebook page as, ”a project that was born from the need to walk some more in a city addicted to cars; from a desire to break away from the routine, to change behaviours and experience the city in a different way, under another perspective…We share content about urban mobility for Paulistanos eager to be inspired again by Sampa.”
Another favourite is São Paulo Antiga, which has existed as a popular website since 2009 and is concerned with recording and preserving São Paulo’s historical architecture. SP’s rapid development over the past one hundred years has, unfortunately, often progressed with scant sentiment for what came before it.
Sampa Pé is also on my wavelength. They describe themselves as a movement that seeks ‘to help you see the city differently, experiencing and interacting with it whilst walking all its ways and secrets’.
Honourable mentions should also go to Sao Paulo da Garoa, SP Metrópole, SP Lovers, Ser Paulistano, Real Cool Sampa, Sampa Graffiti, Mundano SP and Mobilidade Urbana, all of which go some way in trying to show there’s more to Sampa than a check-list of hotspots in a tourist guidebook.
Social media is often an easy target for detractors then, but when it brings together those of us with esoteric interests it proves its worth. Ten years ago, connecting with all of the cool people I mentioned above would have been impossible and it is for this that we must be grateful for sites like Twitter and Instagram. It’s good to know that it’s not just Mauro out there on the streets – seeing the city; seeing São Paulo.
If you are on Twitter or Instagram, share an enthusiasm for seeing the city & I’ve not yet found you, then do please let me know. Cheers.