These two Dutch artists transform ghettos into open-air art galleries

Can art provoke real, effective social change? The answer is yes. Just look at what the Dutch artistic duo Haas&Hahn has accomplished with their extensive and colorful murals in the ghettos of, among others, Rio de Janeiro and Philadelphia.

This story begins in 2005. Jeroen and Dre are in Rio de Janeiro to shoot a documentary on the history of hip-hop. In the making, they become interested in favela architecture and in the way favela people build their own communities.

Accustomed to the rigid Dutch rules in terms of urban planning, the two artists are surprised by the fact that favelas are built without a planned project.

Fast-forward to two years later. It’s 2007 and Haas&Hahn’s vague interest in favela culture has transformed into something far more solid and tangible. Over a dusty football field in Vila Cruzeiro - a notorious favela of Rio De Janeiro - it appeared a colourful painting representing a boy who is holding a kite (however, the kite is not painted, being left to the imagination of the spectators). The painting soon began getting a lot of attention but what was really impressive, even more than the painting itself, was the way it was made.

Haas&Hahn involved the community of Vila Cruzeiro in the project, hiring young people to help them out. It truly became a local project that brought a beacon of hope (and of colour) in the shantytown that until that moment made the news only for terrible crimes such as the brutal murder of investigative journalist Tim Lopes.

Favela Painting

The success of Boy with a Kite led the artistic duo to experiment with a series of other projects in the same area. In 2008, together with the local community and with the collaboration of Dutch tattoo artist Rob Admiraal, they completed a gigantic painting representing a Japanese-style river. The work spreads over an area of 2000 m2.

The favela paintings won the appreciation of the international press and thanks to their bright colours and the inspiring story quickly became viral. The Guardian ran an article aptly titled “Notorious slums become an open-air gallery.”

Favela Painting

Was Haas&Hahn’s creative drive satisfied with this initial success? Of course, not. In a couple of years, they hopped on their most ambitious plane to date. They wanted to paint a whole square. Of course, to achieve such a big goal, they needed, once more, the support of the local community.

In a month, they recruited and trained 25 young people to help them paint their masterpiece: Praça Cantão. This painting is located in the favela of Santa Marta and it's a 7000 m2 splash of vibrant colours.

The artwork received once again the admiration of the international press.

Another big and surprising project was yet to come. But Haas&Hahn didn't know that yet. Until, one day, their phone rang…

This is the first of a series of articles in which we’ll take a closer look at the artistic projects of Haas&Hahn and of their foundation United Painting. We’ll discuss their other artworks, interview them, and try to understand what they’re cooking up for the future. Meanwhile, you can already start getting to know them better on their website.

More Stories