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Cranio - Using Your Head

Words:

Edd Norval
November 20, 2018

If we are to define Cranio's character-driven street art - we'd say it's deeply social political. The main protagonists of the country's street art tend to be very politically and socially driven. This shouldn't come as a surprise given that the country is constantly in flux.

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There are many facets of Brazilian society all pulling each other in opposite directions. It's an infinitely complex structure that has one commonality - they're Brazilian and there is an inherent meaning to that identity. Wherever else division can arise though, it does. In the upper echelons, there is deep corruption and racism. Then a presidential candidate that vows the rid the government of corruption comes along and subsequently speaks out strongly against the predominantly black favelas. One thing improves, another worsens. Such is the cycle.


Frustration reigns in such a place. The aggressive visual language of pichação, a graffiti style based on the sharp lettering of heavy-metal aesthetics, is one way that it manifests. Another is through Finok or Nunca's melancholic depictions of Brazil's tribal heritage transplanted into contemporary settings. It rues the loss of tradition and the erosion of values as Brazil loses touch with its people. Cranio, the portuguese word for 'skull', paints work that floats in between the two.


His work is far more cerebral and literal. His little blue characters look like members of a displaced tribe, a long way from home - both in physical and psychological distance. Just like Os Gemeos, these figures have become iconic in Brazil's street art movement. The Brazilian 'style' is characterised roughly by it's slightly surreal characters that draw on a folkloric and mythological palette of colour and action from their country's past. Many graffiti writers and artists choose a colour early in their paintings lives and stick to it. For Cranio - it's blue.

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Like all of these aforementioned artists, Cranio uses the street as his megaphone. There are a lot of people in Brazil (over 200 million) but hardly any with a voice. Cranio has taken a stand with a can and, through allowing his little blue figures to engage with various politically charged themes, finds himself going viral and his art contributing to the rest of the world's understanding of the sense of alienation and hopelessness that pervades the country.


Some of them are softer and more philosophical looks at the tenuous relationship between people and politics. A dejected figures sits slumped on a stump by a roadside, waiting on something, or hoping for something, but numbed into inaction. It's when he is being more straightforward and blunt that his points hit home with greatest efficiency.


After the huge controversies that surrounded Brazil's hosting of the 2014 World Cup, largely based on the treatment of favelas that were 'cleaned-up' in order to give the city a face-lift, he painted a typical blue figure, tribal in identity through facial markings and jewellery - only they stand bedecked in an ill-fitting football top. The country's flag next to them, worn-away, with the words 'SOLD' written in red. This wasn't naive, choosing to write in English. People in the country understood their plight. This was a piece for the world.

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Other times his characters are fully clad in the protective outfit of riot police, accompanied by shield and visor. Another instance is the depiction of his characters as both thief and robber. Corruption, criminality and a destruction of morals drips down to the very bottom of society. Without help, people will do whatever they have to to survive.


Just like those other artists, these characters are imbued with a deep sense of sadness. In one, we see a family member using McDonald's bags as a way to carry something seems absurd, considering the skills learned in the natural environment in Brazil - ones that would allow people to build something far more suitable than a cardboard box as a bag. Yet it is the shiny logo that attracts us, and them, like magpies. Like them, we too are slaves.


The displacement of indigenous people means the arrival of a 'new' population into an urban environment. This isn't always smooth, in fact, it rarely is. The problems are myriad and 'adapt or die' too often leads to the latter. Their new relationship with consumerism draws our attention to the plight of their own environmental woes. We see, with our own eyes and first-hand, the corrupting possibilities of capital.


His name, Cranio, was given to him when he was a kid in school for being the smartest in the class. It also lends itself to the way we see his work. It's challenging in a way that's both immediate, but also features subtle twists that beg deeper analysis. His name and the deep thought provoked by his work seems all brain, but therein lies the paradox. Cranio isn't all brain, rather he's all heart.


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