Favela Painting


‘Favela Painting’ © Richard Smith

My research is concerned with large scale painting initiatives by deprived communities worldwide – e.g. in Mexico, USA, Indonesia, Haiti and Afghanistan – to better understand the role, nature,  purpose, and effects of ‘total’ artistic interventions in different urban environments. See Haas and Hahn TED talk.

Colour is an important but often taken for granted feature of urban life. The on-going painting of sections of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas is testament to the importance of colour for improving and sustaining residential life. Whilst international artists visiting Rio have enabled favela residents to paint their dwellings through fund-raising initiatives, and even gained sponsorship from companies such as Coral to supply the paint, the painting has a hidden purpose beyond the merely decorative. Only a rendered dwelling can be painted effectively, and whilst plastering a dwelling is a significant functional improvement because it serves as a barrier to water, it also lends a certain identity, permanence and legitimation to dwellings that are classified as illegal constructions.

‘Favela painting’ is now visible in other Brazilian cities too. In Belo Horizonte Eduardo Pizzolante and Marcia Guimarães are leading and funding the painting – in appropriately bright colours – of a section of the Morro do Papagaio (Parrot Hill) favela.

Eduardo and Richard




Morro do Papagaio

Indicative of how simple and relatively inexpensive ideas can, with positive community involvement, transform neighbourhoods and the lives of their residents, their initiative has quickly begun to transform the neighbourhood’s look and atmosphere in such a way that reminds you that the favela is a place of homes, of pride, where communities are striving under difficult circumstances to make better and more colourful lives.

My interest in favela painting in Brazil to date has involved: First, the exhibition of my award winning photograph to audiences in the UK and USA to raise the profile and purpose of such community initiatives. Second, my communication of a favela painting initiative undertaken by my Brazilian friends in Belo Horizonte’s Morro do Papagaio (Parrot Hill) favela to urban practitioners and sponsors at the 2016 United Nations Habitat III Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development in Quito (my attendance was made possible by the generous sponsorship of Santander bank). This also involved me writing an article for Links Magazine: Chamber of Industry & Commerce Ecuador & Great Britain (Special issue for UNESCO Habitat III conference, Quito, October, page 35) which was distributed to the conference attendees.

Current activity is focused on fund raising to buy paint! Details of how to donate will be published shortly. Please contact me if you can help in any way.

Watch youtube video here.

See flickr here.

My photo “Favela Painting”, winner of the LOCWS International Illumination in Engagement Prize (Research as Art, EPSRC Prize, 2015) has received considerable attention, coverage, and usage. The photo has appeared across a wide range of fora:

Exhibited: (1) Swansea University Digital Technium (June 2015); (2) Taliesin Arts Centre (July-August 2015); (3) Swansea Grand Theatre (September-October 2015); (4) Royal Institution in London (February-March 2016); (5) University of Texas, Austin (April-May 2016).

News: (1) featured in BBC News online Wales (June 2015 and January 2016).

Marketing: (1) chosen as front cover for University Momentum Magazine (July 2015); (2) featured in Annual Report of the International Development Office (December 2015); (3) selected as frontispiece image for College of Science’s new Science Hub development (January 2016); (4) used as front cover for Department of Geography Undergraduate Brochure 2016; (5) used as frontispiece image for Department of Geography website homepage; (6) featured in Excellence at Swansea: Learning and Teaching, Student Support (2016) brochure.



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Education: (1) photo used as the front cover for the major international and interdisciplinary textbook: Smith, RG ed. (forthcoming, 2018) The Companion to Urban Studies (London: Routledge).

The Companion to Uban Studies

Business: (1) photo used as frontispiece for Swansea University’s Business Partnership webpage, used to illustrate developing links with business partners in Latin America; (2) appeared in Links Magazine: Chamber of Industry & Commerce Ecuador & Great Britain (Special issue for UNESCO Habitat III conference, Quito, October) <www.issuu.com/ciceb>.