Beyond the tractor: art and resistance in Vila Autódromo

After an intense and thorough work undertaken with the inhabitants of Vila Autódromo, artists and curators opened the “Open Sky” monument and launched the publication “Vocabularies in Movement, Lives in Resistance”, both of them symbols of the struggle of this community.


  • Vila final 1 © Igor Vidor
  • Vila final 2 © Igor Vidor
  • Vila final 3 © Igor Vidor
  • Vila final 4 © Igor Vidor
  • Vila final 5 © Igor Vidor

It is roast day in the Vila Autódromo community, in Barra da Tijuca, Rio de Janeiro. Maria da Penha’s house is full of women preparing the meal: some clean the fish, some cut the vegetables, all of them talk. The hostess, next to Nathalia Silva, her daughter, and Sandra Maria, one of the neighbors, is one of the symbols of the local resistance, spearheaded by women. Outside, the sun hits hard, and between music and beer, the portable grill (designed artist Guga Ferraz) is being put together. It is a mix of neighbors, artists and architects that are closing down a process of collaboration of more than nine months. All this occurs near a highway where cars pass by at high speed.

For pedestrians or those who come from the city center, it is not easy to access the Vila: they must take a metro, a bus, and cross a footbridge. GPS devices find it hard to identify the place. When one arrives, there are twenty whitewashed houses, 1-floor. It is hard to imagine, but almost 600 families lived there. Most of them came out between 2014 and 2016, when the Mayor’s Office began the forced displacement, providing social rents, compensation, or a unit from the popular housing program “Minha casa, minha vida” (My home, my life).

Eduardo Paes, then mayor of Rio, managed to become well-renowned as the manager who evicted the most families in the history of the city, by exceeding figures such as the legendary mayor Pereira Passos, more than 100 years ago. The difference is that today, evading the discourse of sanitization, displacements are associated with mega-events (World Cup in 2014, and the Olympics, in 2016). Beyond the sporting agenda, what was revealed was an intimate association between public and private power, in a process of real estate speculation, that displaces people who formerly lived in areas valued to peripheries. In the case of the Vila, the argument was that the community was invading the security perimeter of the Games (although it was peaceful), aside from the construction of other facilities (the Olympic village that hosted the athletes is near the Vila). Popular projects, developed in conjunction with the federal universities, seeking a viable permanence, were ignored. Still, communities such as the Favela do Sambadrome were extinguished, and researchers estimate that more than 67,000 people had to be displaced in that period.

The methods included daily insistence and siege, and the inhabitants reported being coerced to accept compensation by means of psychological pressure, in addition to having problems with debris and the supply of water and electricity. As we cut the vegetables, before the roast, a former resident told us how sorry she was of having come out, as she now lives with her two children in a rented room in a nearby community. However, this was a day of celebration. After much effort, the twenty families see the results of having stayed, little by little: the strengthening of a local network, the incremental achievements, the example of being a community that assumes the main role in the discussion about its own housing rights.

One of the major examples of this coordination is the Museu das Remoções (Museum of Displacement). Designed by neighbors, this is a living archive that turns the community into its own acquis and seeks to rescue and reconstruct stories that were lost. It is the idea of a museum as a territory, one that helps the community to fight for the narrative of the displacement. However, this is a process under construction. Luiz Cláudio Silva, one of its inhabitants, built a large archive with documentation of the entire process of negotiation and displacement through pictures, videos and stories. These are not yet available to the public and now it is up to the community to understand how to build a space dedicated to memory that addresses local aspirations, far from the areas of a traditional institution.

To think about how art could add something to this context was delicate. As is well known, sometimes artists approach social situations like some sort of saviors that think they can solve the world’s problems. However, this is not necessarily accompanied by a real commitment with the agents of their contexts of interest and produces superficial effects. The proximity of a community with a historical deed of resistance and political confrontation required care and seriousness, and wouldn’t happen at the short term. Dealing with various interests between NGOs, filmmakers, and journalists of all kinds, the inhabitants were also learning to defend themselves and to distrust paternalism. How could it be possible to collaborate in the consolidation of a local memory without a real coverage in the context of struggle? And so, how could both parties provoke each other to achieve solutions that are not predictable?

The “Open Sky” project, as part of “The Future of Memory” and devised by the Goethe-Institut, arrived at the Vila without knowing well how it would act, open to surprises. Igor Vidor, one of the curators, had already made artwork in the place and had accompanied the drama of the inhabitants for a long period, during which he established links. The other curators, João Paulo Quintella, interested in the relations between art and architecture, Shana dos Santos, dedicated to human rights, and Gleyce Kelly Heitor, linked to the topic of museums, its acquis and education, joined their practices.

Gradually, the artists joined in: based on awareness workshops, Kammal João developed together with the inhabitants of the Vila flags that symbolize the resistance and the territory based on local demand. In the context of the post-displacement, there are, for instance, not enough plates to demarcate the existence of the Vila, and the nearest bus stop was built by the neighborhood itself. Guga Ferraz built a portable grill on a wheelbarrow (symbol of the works), which will be retained and used by the inhabitants to encourage collective festivities. Cristina Ribas and Lucas Sargentelli developed a publication based on conversations, narratives, which brings together memories and expressions of struggle, a kind of “partial mapping of the resistance,” according to the artists. Ivo Godoy worked alongside Luiz Cláudio Silva, helping to organize part of his collection of images and contributing to the reflections about what a museum of displacement may be. In all cases, the interest in linking the demands of a program that has already been built and the possibilities of fiction began to come together.

Architects Luisa Bogossian, André Daemon, Danilo Filgueiras (Guanabara Studio), Iazana Guizzo, and Natália Cidade (Terceira Margem) designed a circular square, a kind of social monument, seeking to build a space for coexistence that has been lost in the process of urban reconfiguration of the community. Iazana insisted on the fact that corners, which used to be points of encounter, had disappeared. In the new Vila, the church operates as a public square (and one of the only buildings preserved due to the persistence of Father Fábio). In addition to the parochial agenda, this is the meeting point of the neighbors, the furniture warehouse, the hostel, meetings, and negotiations. For example,

let’s go back to the roast. Around the newly opened memorial, Mrs. Denise and Mrs. Dalva raised the flag with the name of the Vila. I can’t remember if this was before or after seasoning the zucchini. Penha climbed a step by the microphone to say that the territory should be divided and shared, while little Áxila whispered in my ear that she still wanted a children’s park. The artists talked about their processes, while pagode (musical genre derived from samba) of the 1990s intermixed with a record from the 1980s, shiny sunglasses shared spaces with a tricycle, the day ended, Vila reaffirmed itself as Vila, and art was there—a little diluted, though, fortunately.