At the age of eight, Hebert Amorim was introduced to funk carioca (Rio funk) through a bootleg CD by Mr Catra, a favela MC known for his boldly explicit lyrics about gangs, firearms, and sexual encounters.
“I was caught by my mother listening to it and she got very angry,” stated the 30-year-old visual artist from Senador Camará, a tough area in west Rio de Janeiro where even the police are afraid to go.
Amorim was captivated. After a couple of years, he secretly attended his first favela funk party, lying to his mother about staying at a friend’s house. “When I got there, I was blown away. There was this otherworldly energy,” he recalled, describing the exhilarating mix of DJs, dancers, weapons, and flashy accessories that he experienced and now depicts in his collages.
Amorim’s musical creations are included in a collection of 900 works displayed at the Museum of Art in Rio de Janeiro (MAR), showcasing the significance of the funk movement in Brazilian society, culture, and politics. This exhibition, featuring prominent young Brazilian artists and international figures like photographer Vincent Rosenblatt, is believed to be the first of its kind to be solely dedicated to the genre by a prestigious museum.
Over thirty years after funk carioca emerged, with numerous subgenres and lyrics that can range from suggestive to lighthearted to politically conscious, there is still controversy surrounding its origins. Some argue that it is a blend of Miami bass and gangsta rap from South America, while others believe it evolved from the Afro-Brazilian rhythm known as Maculelê.
Marcelo Campos, the chief curator for MAR, stated that the exhibition was a purposeful response to elitist attitudes in the art world that dictate museums should only showcase the “high culture” of Brazil’s mostly white upper class. This mindset often dismisses funk, a genre of music, as something only associated with criminals.
During a tour of the exhibit’s two halls, one highlighting Rio’s black history and the other showcasing the favela funk movement, Campos stated that the goal is to challenge the notion of funk being a taboo. The message of the exhibit is to showcase funk as a highly valued cultural expression.
Amorim was not surprised that a significant museum was holding a funk exhibit, but rather that it had not happened sooner. He stated, while looking over the neighborhood that influences his art, that it was long overdue. He believes that funk is one of the most significant cultural legacies of our era.
The MAR exhibition continues a longstanding tradition of black culture, resistance, and empowerment, tracing back to influential musicians like flautist and saxophonist Pixinguinha from the early 1900s. The roots of modern favela funk dances can be traced back to the 1970s, when people flocked to suburban nightclubs to dance to the music of artists like James Brown and Kool & the Gang.
The soul and funk dances eventually transitioned into the favelas, which now house 20% of Rio’s population of 6.6 million. As Amorim was growing up in the 1990s and 2000s, these dances became a loud cultural and social phenomenon. Today, Rio’s largest bailes, often named after foreign places like Egypt, the Netherlands, Moscow, and London, draw in tens of thousands of party-goers and play a significant role in the local economy.
According to Amorim, the loud and nonstop raves near his childhood home make it impossible to get any sleep. It almost feels like the music is inside your own house.
Amorim described funk music as a means of documenting and honoring the challenging circumstances of Rio’s favelas, which are mostly under the control of heavily armed drug groups. He stated, “Funk is a reflection of the raw truth of life. It represents the reality we experience.” He also noted, “It’s something that everyone witnesses but is often avoided in conversation.”
The artist known as Artedeft, whose real name is Amorim, aimed to create a similar effect in his collages. He blended images of life in the favela with elements from the works of painters such as Van Gogh, Edvard Munch, and Paul Gauguin. According to Amorim, his art reflects the Rio de Janeiro that he sees every day – it can be seen everywhere on the streets. Interestingly, the artist did not visit a museum until he was 21, when he attended a Salvador Dalí exhibit.
Juan Calvet, aged 25, who is also featured in the exhibition, shared that he was moved to tears upon receiving an invitation from MAR. He had only visited his first museum three years prior. “It was a truly impactful experience, you know? To come to a museum and see yourself represented in such diverse ways,” Calvet expressed.
Visitors to the museum from the favelas expressed similar feelings as they took selfies with sculptures and paintings inspired by funk music, which reflected their own experiences.
“I witnessed it firsthand,” recalled Andreia Sampaio da Silva, a transgender woman in her forties, reflecting on her experiences at the bailes de corredor (“corridor dances”) she used to attend in her youth. These events involved competing funk groups engaging in dance battles that sometimes led to physical altercations.
Campos believed that long-standing prejudice and snobbery were the reasons behind museums’ past reluctance to embrace funk music and the favelas.
The curator expressed that Funk is facing the same discrimination that Samba previously faced. Samba was viewed as music for criminals and resulted in arrests, show closures, and banned lyrics. The curator hopes that MAR can challenge these stereotypes by showcasing exhibitions that reflect modern society.
It is no longer effective to rely on the traditional method of using the Mona Lisa as a tool for educating society.