Opening August 9 6pm to 8pm
August 9 to October 3 2008
2737 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
A Diary of Exclusion
The Alegria Gallery, from Art and Shelter, will be exhibiting a group of photographs from the Prestes Maia essay. These images are fragments of a visual diary that I have been keeping at the Prestes Maia occupation at the heart of the city of Sao Paulo, during almost three years (2005 to 2007).
The site was considered the largest vertical occupation in Latin America. The building was an old textile factory abandoned more than 20 years ago, and the owners owe millions in taxes to the municipal government. Some 2.000 people were living there, members of the Downtown Homeless Movement, which is led by 10 women from various occupied sites in the city. The groups, well organized and articulated are formed by thousands of people who formerly lived on the street, in squares or under bridges and overpasses. Like an army without shelter, they founded the Homeless Movement not only as a way to struggle for the right to housing, but to restore their own dignity, unraveled by lack of care and social segregation.
There is tremendous prejudice in Brazil against the homeless, who are often accused of being "rabble rousers" and "invaders" of empty and abandoned buildings.There are more than 400 sealed or under utilized buildings in downtown Sao Paulo. It is in these locations that the homeless want to live. Nevertheless, in recent years, "urban revitalization" projects have given emphasis to raising real estate values, and there is no room for the homeless. They are evicted towards the periphery or sub-human life in cortiços – precarious urban dwellings with many residents in tiny spaces. These revitalization projects sponsored by the city government and private companies (pressure of property speculation) do not give priority to reducing inequalities, but to exclusion, a social apartheid, which often includes violent actions from shock troops, security forces and private security.
These images seek to show that the homeless are honorable people seeking the inalienable right to a dignified life.
Prestes Maia Occupation now
After almost 5 years of occupation, constants suspensions of evictions, national and international mobilizations, in May 2007, a meeting joined leaders from federal, state and municipal sphere, giving a new direction for the Prestes Maia families. After negotiations, a progressive and pacific withdrawal happened and the occupation was closed.
Many had moved to other buildings, small apartments at city's downtown with a provisory support of the federal government, and are still waiting the promise of the negotiation: reform and rent for fair values social habitations for them . Other group of families accepted the offer to move out of downtown, to live in the periphery of the city. Some other families just moved to other occupations from the Homeless Movement in the city, and continue fighting.
Since July, 2007, the Prestes Maia building is still closed, sealed with concrete blocks.
These photos are fragments of this history of S o Paulo society, where I was born. They are not only testimonies, but also elements of communication that I hope can raise awareness and promote the approximation of social classes. They strive to contribute to the transformation of urban space into a location that does not segregate, but to the contrary, unites people around a common good.