Welcome to the Cantareira Desert Favorite 

Practitioner: 

Date: 

Mar 9 2015

Location: 

Sao Paulo Brazil

A grey minivan rattled through São Paulo’s hilly suburbs, loaded with spray cans, paint rollers, buckets and a ladder as five street artists drove to the Atibainha river, rap lyrics blaring from their speakers.

On the sweltering afternoon of 26 February, they painted colourful protest murals on the legs of a bridge that crosses one of São Paulo’s most important water sources, nestled in the Serra da Cantareira mountain range.

Months earlier, as fears of drought loomed over the region, Thiago Mundano had tagged the words “Welcome to the Cantareira desert” on to an abandoned car under the same bridge. That image became an icon of crisis as water supplies fell to a historic low and taps ran dry in South America’s largest city.

“My idea was to show people how much water we are losing and that São Paulo will be a desert soon,” the artist explained. “Photographers started taking pictures and it became a way of measuring the water. There are many images with different levels.”

The car has now been removed, but the crisis continues – and Mundano painted a new picture of the vehicle next to its original resting place, alongside a poetic message about waiting to see if the reservoir recovers its depth.

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His work is part of a growing movement involving artists, activists and independent journalists to raise awareness of the issue and compensate for what they believe is a lack of thorough coverage in mainstream media.

In São Paulo’s trendy Vila Madalena neighbourhood, Mundano’s work is now on view in a new joint exhibition with artist Mauro, at the A7MA gallery. It features a canvas painting of the infamous car, junk “icons” found in the Atibainha river and a model building tagged with graffiti that offers free water to visitors.

Several pieces invoke Mundano’s signature motif, a cactus with water taps sunk into its stalk. In December, images of a live plant installation in the barren Cantareira reservoir went viral after a Reuters photo was widely published.

“Art has the power to give visibility to new questions – I am fighting for people to reflect on the crisis,” said Mundano. “I want people who see the show to think differently when they go home.”

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