Summer ABroad – Dora Chen

I got home a few days ago after spending five weeks in Brazil studying Ecology and Conservation Biology. Most days were spent doing fieldwork, but on the weekends we often took our rattling little van into Sao Paulo city and explored the museums, parks, and neighborhoods.

To be truthful, I know very little about art, apart from the fact that I like it. Apart from one semester of Art freshman year, my formal education in art is limited to art class in elementary school.

When we visited the MASP, or the Sao Paulo Museum of Art, a couple weeks ago, I spent forever in the surrealist exhibit captivated by the works I’d never seen, by artists I’d never heard of, with descriptions in a language I couldn’t read, from a movement about which I knew little more than its name. To an extent, I like how my lack of knowledge unbiases me, and how it allows me to be drawn to every piece based solely on how it makes me feel at the moment. But at the same time, I cannot help but be aware of the artist’s story and the piece’s history that I’m missing, another dimension to the art that’s passing me by.


The Brazilian by Raphael Galvez in the Pinocoteca Art Museum, an Art Museum where we were allowed to take photos!


Ici et ailleurs by Daniel Senise also found in the lobby of the Pinocoteca Art Museum

That’s why the graffiti in Sao Paulo fascinated me. Every street in Sao Paulo is laced with graffiti. There’s no surface, it seems, that’s too sacred, too small, or too unreachable to be tagged. With the graffiti, the artist’s story and piece’s history no longer seemed as important. When I visited a maze of alleys known for its graffiti, the artists and the meanings behind their works weren’t known save for what we could see; I sensed that it was meant to be this way. At any given time, one artist’s work can be painted over by another’s. And so, it seems, everything there is to the piece is present in the moment.






A playful interaction between the cityscape and graffiti

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Graffiti of graffiti


Young man painting during the mid afternoon. He didn’t look at the crowd around him at all while he painted.

Perhaps what fascinates me the most about the graffiti in Sao Paulo, however is the comfort with impermanence. While I was walking through the alleys filled with graffiti, I saw a young man working on a piece, and I was struck by how long he deliberated before he began each element of the piece. The care with which these pieces are done and the painstaking detail of each of these pieces are amazing and surprising, given that they are certain to be painted over—they will never make their ways into museums. They won’t even stay long enough to deteriorate on their own. Yet, the graffiti artists seem undeterred.

I like that. As a viewer, I’m feel privy to a moment in time. And more so, I’m inspired and reminded to do what I love simply for the sake of loving what I do.