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.