O Morro/The Hill

Artist: Haas & Hahn
Location: Communidade da Santa Marta, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Year of completion: 2010
Researcher: Ted Decker

The O Morro (The Hill) project in the Santa Marta Community of Rio de Janeiro was completed in 2010 and demonstrates excellence in innovative, privately-funded, artist-led placemaking in the public realm. The contemporary design, while being aesthetically pleasing and cheerful, also encourages hope, community pride and a sense of ownership, resulting in long-term impact.

Haas & Hahn is the working name of artist team Jeroen Koolhaas (Rotterdam, 1977) and Dre Urhahn (Amsterdam, 1973). They started working together in 2005, when they filmed a documentary about hip hop in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro and São Paolo for MTV. Inspired by this visit, they developed a plan to make “outrageous” art interventions in unexpected places, starting with painting enormous murals in the slums of Brazil together with the local youth and other residents. Their first project was in the Community of Vila Cruzeiro, a notoriously impoverished favela with high levels of violence due to drug trafficking. After completing a large mural painting there in 2007, they painted a massive concrete flood control device designed to protect the community from flash floods during the rainy season.

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The successes of these initial projects in Vila Cruzeiro inspired the O Morro project in Santa Marta, a very large favela community in Rio de Janeiro. The hillside community is prominent and visible from many viewpoints in the city because of its location between the famous geographic landmarks and tourist destinations Pão do Açucar (Sugar Loaf Mountain) and Corcovado, which has the giant Cristo Redentor (Christ the Redeemer) monument on top. As seen from the attached before image, the artists selected an ordinary, rather nondescript plaza in the heart of Santa Marta.

Urhahn describes O Morro as "free art." It was not commissioned by a governmental agency, but rather funded privately through the Firmeza Foundation. (Initially, the Rio paint company Tintas Coral was a partner, but that company pulled out shortly after the project started. Tintas Coral’s employees did, however, train local residents how to use and apply paint with instructions about how to safely work on scaffolding.) Inhabitants of the favela were employed to paint their own houses according to a pre-arranged pattern (see attached drawing for the project). The vision is to turn their community into an “artwork of epic scale” which will “produce an explosion of color, joyfully radiating into the world.”

The project is organic and flexible enough to allow future expansion as more funds are raised. The transformation of this area of Santa Marta is visibly successful. Visitors are encouraged to ride a funicular up the steep mountain slope to the community to observe the area first-hand. According to one Rio de Janeiro resident, the project enticed her to visit the community, and now she frequently makes the trip up the mountain to dine at a marvelous Santa Marta restaurant.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency