Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Brazil's Grupo OPNI Paints Empowerment at Tulane

September 18th, 2017

Written by Annie McNeill Gibson, PhD

“I am so happy to see artwork happening on our campus depicting communities of color,” said senior Shannon Watson, in reaction to the visit of Brazil-based graffiti artist collective Grupo OPNI who came to campus September 10-13th, 2017.

Grupo OPNI is a graffiti artist collective from São Mateus, Brazil, with a mission of using art as a medium to celebrate Afro Brazilian culture and a vehicle to give voice for disenfranchised groups from the periphery. Artists Val and Toddy began Grupo OPNI in 1997, finding art as a tool to escape their violent reality of São Paulo’s São Mateus favela. They have since won many national awards for graffiti art in Brazil such as “Best Graffiti Group” in (2012: State of São Paulo) and “Best community project” in the “Cultural Territories Category” (2015: Governor’s Award). The group is also known for developing works for various artists in the Brazilian music scene such as MC’s, Crioulo, MV Bill, Dexter, Emicida, Charlie Brow Junior, O Rappa, Banda Black Rio, Ponot de Equilíbrio, among others.

OPNI’s welcome event occurred on Sunday, September 10th and drew diverse members of both the Tulane and New Orleans communities to the home of Administrative Assistant Professor Annie Gibson. Gibson’s friendship with OPNI began in 2014 when the group made their first international trip to New Orleans for the 2014 Jazz Fest where Gibson worked as their translator. Sunday’s event was the first international extension of OPNI’s community project entitled “Favela Galeria,” an initiative where OPNI has taken over walls in their São Mateus community to illustrate empowering representations of favela life, often with a focus on female women of color as central figures of resistance. At the welcome event local children and community members alike had a chance to paint alongside OPNI.

Grupo OPNI stands for “Objetos Pichadores Não Identificados,” and is roughly translated as “Alien Taggers.” The group coined this name as a social response to the marginalization of favela areas by mainstream Brazilian society. “Favela’s are often seen as being less than human—as aliens,” said Toddy, during his discussion with Rosanne Adderley’s “Slave Rebellions” history class. OPNI worked with Rosanne Adderley’s history students to produce a graffitti homage to the fugitive slave community of Palmares. Tulane senior, Henry Monkarsh, had the following to say about his experience with OPNI.

“My historical methods seminar on Slave Rebellions had the opportunity to get hands-on with Grupo OPNI. To start off the semester Professor Rosanne Adderley introduced my peers and I to the history of Palmares, a runaway slave community in southeast Brazil in the 1600s. We spoke extensively about the reliability of primary documents in these types of historical instances — which often times were acquired through evil and inhumane means. Since the historical development of Palmares and Palmaridos is still largely debated among historians, this provided an opportunity to engage with the significance of primary/secondary evidence in historical debates… This intercultural engagement beyond the classroom also forced my peers and I to think critically about what the Palmares equivalent would be in a North American context. Although there was debate among my classmates as to what would be the best American parallel, we were able to discuss the criterion of slave rebellions — Is it a rebellion only if it is successful? What if the revolt was mobilized by outlying white abolitionists? These were some questions that jumpstarted our conversation.”

On Tuesday, September 12, 2017, Grupo OPNI produced a canvas in Pocket Park of the LBC as a mural dedication to the Center for Global Education weekly Global Café where they embodied themes of intercultural exchange, diversity, and inclusion in their artwork. In the evening they met with students at the Paterson Changemakers dorm for an artist discussion and a graffiti workshop. Students, with assistance from OPNI, produced two pieces for Tulane’s Taylor Center.

OPNI’s visit also took to heart Tulane’s connection with the local community. OPNI had the chance to engage with other artists in the community and learn about New Orleans’ artistic culture. Val reports that OPNI’s exchanges with students and New Orleans over their time at Tulane was enlightening, broke down many stereotypes, and has encouraged them to find ways to increase their international cultural exchanges as part of their own professional development.

On Wednesday, September 13th, OPNI visited Warren Easton ‘s Latin American Studies class, in a Stone Center initiative of spreading knowledge about Latin America to local K-12 schools. OPNI talked to students about São Mateus, Brazil, and about how they use art as a tool for social change. They concluded with an artistic workshop in which the students learned graffiti layering techniques. Their final piece was a student-generated work highlighting words the high school students chose to empower their own communities in New Orleans, finalized with OPNI images of São Mateus.

OPNI’s visit was sponsored by the Center for Global Education Office of Multicultural Affairs ; Taylor Center ; Africana Studies Department ; Stone Center for Latin American Studies ; and Lavin-Bernick Center for University Life.

Brazil + People
Claudiney Pereira
Professor of Practice - Economics