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Street Smarts
Art in America

By Otavio Pandolfo of OSGEMEOS


I’m on the left, my brother Gustavo is on the right, and our friend Rooney is in the middle. It was 1987, and Gustavo and I were fourteen; Rooney was a few years older. We grew up in Cambric, a very creative neighborhood in São Paolo. In the ‘80s we played in the street all day, everyday. There was this bench in front of my parents’ house where the B-boys would hang out. We grew up seeing these guys break-dancing and making graffiti, and we wanted to be like them.


We started drawing when we were three or four years old, and never stopped. We had a lot of support from our parents, and from our older brother. When we first started getting into hip-hop, we thought it was very culturally complex, because it involved music, dancing, and painting, and we wanted to try everything. We used to paint all of our clothes. The lettering on these shirts was inspired by Lee Quiñones. The design was on the back, but we turned them around for the photo. You couldn’t buy Nikes in São Paolo then, so we’d paint swooshes on our sneakers. My Yankees hat here is fake; I painted on the logo! And my grandmother sewed Gustavo’s “Kangol” hat from a white towel.


This photo was taken at the São Bento metro stop. Every Saturday at 2 p.m. there was a hip-hop get-together; it was a way to hang out and exchange information. The three of us had recently formed a rap group called MC Dewey, and we were probably working on a new beat, because on most Saturdays we’d go to a club to breakdance and rap. It was really hard to find books and movies about hip-hop. There was no internet! So we’d spend the whole day in the theater watching the moving Beat Street ten times, to learn how to breakdance. And there was just one guy in the neighborhood who had a book about subway art. We convinced him to photocopy it, and we labeled the colors of all the pieces we likes, so we could study them, because the copy was black-and-white.


Everything felt very natural. We just made stuff, and developed our own style. It didn’t matter if the music was no good or if you didn’t know how to dance, or if your graffiti was bad. We really had a lot of fun during this time. We were becoming more comfortable with our art, and we weren’t afraid of anything. 


— As told to Leigh Anne Miller