The Southbank’s role model favela

The project that started out like child’s play and changed the life of a community

“In 1997, when I was 14, there were two paths I could’ve taken in life, but the wealth and respect promised by the world of crime appeared much more immediate. I created an alternative for myself”, recalls Cilan Oliveira, one of the founders of the social project ‘Morrinho’, in Rio de Janeiro. It was child’s play that made the dream of a new life tangible for Cilan, and for the community of the Pereira da Silva favela, more commonly known as ‘Pereirão’. “During that period my brother, Maycon Oliveira, and I began building a model of Pereirão with my father’s leftover construction materials. It wasn’t anything more than a bit of fun, to keep ourselves occupied and forget about the problems of our day-to-day lives”.

This bit of fun, which attracted the participation of dozens of youngsters, developed aesthetically and took on such impressive proportions that it eventually drew the attention of journalists and filmmakers in Rio. It was around 2001 that the ‘Morrinho’ (or ‘little hill’), as the model became known, began to earn recognition  as a work of art. And it was during the same period, with the arrival of filmmakers Fabio Gavião and Markão Oliveira, that the ‘make-believe’ town manifested itself as  a social project. They began to train the boys in audiovisual media, and one thing led to another. Cilan reflects: “today one of the results of project ‘Morrinho’ is TV Morrinho, which produces films, carrying out the editing and filming for the companies involved, and aims to start teaching  young people from the community”.

The model currently measures an impressive 300m2 and is chiefly financed by Turismo no Morrinho, the company responsible for attracting tourists to the installation. “Unfortunately people tend to see Rio as divided; between slum and city. I don’t believe this, but I think ‘Morrinho’ has been responsible for bringing the two worlds closer”, reveals Cilan. The project, currently involving more than 20 youths, has already participated in high-profile international events, such as the Venice Biennale, in 2007. “Be it in Brasil or in any part of the world, the public reaction is always the same: everyone is impressed by it”.

More important than its social role, according to its founder, is the model’s symbolism. “It’s become a place where the people of Pereirão come to escape their problems, talk and relax”, he says. In a  favela, where entertainment is scarce, the installation has become a town square  or community centre of sorts. “My calm moments are there, it’s like a temple to me”. ‘Morrinho’s next stop is London, for Festival Brazil. The group will run workshops and create a replica, on show for the summer, raising awareness of Brasilian culture which, according to Cilan, has and always will emanate from the favelas.

By Andre Oliveira

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Celebrate the completion of Southbank Centre’s model favela hill with Project Morrinho. Dance to bouncing booty beats with Portuguese rap music from the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
22th July, 7pm, free
southbankcentre.co.uk

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