Sao Paulo’s modern art museums! Brazilian artists at Japan House, MASP, Beco de Batman murals.
How’s your summer going? Anyone else hiding like a vampire during this heatwave? I’m always under layers of mineral sunscreen, giant sunglasses, a hat, and I have a UV umbrella on the way!
We’re coming to the end of my South America travel stories. This time around, we’ll take a look at the art, culture and fashion of Sao Paulo, Brazil.
I also wanted to share a peek at my summer wardrobe. Recently, I’ve been heading to Kate’s Clothing for Gothic sundresses and other dark fashion. They carry a number of my favorite brands (such as this pentagram dress by Killstar), as well as Kate’s own fashion lines.
Love the witchy vibes of her Antibrand trailing cardigan with a hood, in front of a gingerbread house.
I’m also currently living in Bella Starr Hats. I’m always on the lookout for wide-brimmed sunhats that are stylish and easy to pack in my suitcase. Bella Starr ticks of all of the above, with her unique hats and hair accessories all handmade in the USA. Stay tuned for many more images this season.
As I’ve hinted, I am gearing up for a trip to Tokyo, Japan. I booked a new travel TV show job as host and producer! As always, First Mate Naomi and I will be arranging something wild involving subcultures. We’ll also visit Hiroshima and Naoshima for the first time, as well as two other countries in Asia… announcements to come.
Above: my striped platform sandals are these exact ones by Rocket Dog. I love this youthful footwear brand; click below for more of their fun designs.
Most travellers skip Sao Paulo, as it’s not known as a tourist destination, and focus on Rio de Janeiro (where we also went). However, we were curious about Brazil’s largest city, and discovered that it had impressive food, fashion and art.
Sao Paulo has a reputation as an “ugly” city, with unsightly urban sprawl and road jams. However, if you look beyond these first impressions, you may be surprised at what you find. In the Jardins district, for example, I found these colonial Portuguese remnants decorated with street art, framed by skyscrapers and traffic.
Behind these gritty facades, you’ll find restaurants with beautiful decor. We loved our lunch at Issoecafe, beginning with caipirinha cocktails (cachaça sugarcane liquor and lime). We snacked on dadinho de tapioca (a national snack of coalho cheese and tapioca cubes), ceviche, and other healthy Brazilian dishes.
Elizabeth and I then set off on an art-walk, beginning at ISP. The free museum had a photography exhibit that documented the dramatic evolution of Sao Paulo over the years.
From the balcony, we looked out at Paulista Avenue. This central road spans 2.8 km, and has been the site of political protests over the years.
We walked over to São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP). The 1968 design by Lina Bob Bardi is easy to spot: red beams draped over a freestanding concrete and glass rectangle.
The ultra-modern exterior hints at the contemporary works inside. However, the MASP is also well known for its collection of classic European art. I’m standing in front of Giambattista Pittoni’s Dioniso e Ariadne, from 1730.
We were most interested in the MASP’s eclectic selection of Brazilian art. Quite a few of these works had an indigenous feel, or had national political themes.
Unlike in a typical gallery, the frames were free-standing and mounted in a way that mirrored the concrete and glass architecture. The only downside: you had to go around to the back of each picture, in order to read the description!
The next day, we took an Uber to the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art at Ibirapuera Park. Don’t miss out on this view of the megalopolis from the rooftop.
The museum has over 4000 works, with a focus on contemporary Brazilian creatives. We loved this deceptively simple and cheerful landscape by painter Tarsila do Amaral. She recently had an exhibit at the MoMA in New York, which had elevated worldwide interest in modern art from Brazil.
The MAM consists of multiple floors, filled with works in various sizes and media. This elephant caught my attention — he’s made entirely from slices of foam.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that many readers of this blog come from Brazil, and that quite a few Visual Kei / J-rock bands have toured here. It’s no surprise to hear that Sao Paulo has the largest Japanese community outside of Japan, especially in the district of Liberdade.
To find out more about Japanese-Brazilian culture, we visited the newly-opened Japan House Sao Paulo, which was creatively directed by Muji’s Kenya Hara. This Zen-inspired building holds a gallery space, a cafe and restaurant, boutiques, and various cultural events.
Elizabeth and I were mesmerized by Oscar Oiwa’s installation, called Paraiso or Paradise. We pushed our way through an air-tight flap, and found ourselves inside this inflatable 360-degree Garden of Eden. Oscar Oiwa used black marker pens to adorn the walls with dreamy forest paths, creatures and abstract swirls.
Paradise was one of our favorite moments of the trip. Inside this wonderland, you can’t help but feel uplifted. I hope you might have the chance to experience Oscar’s vision for yourself.
Elizabeth’s friend Bráulio Mantovani (writer of the “City of God” film) recommended that we visit Adriana Barra’s boutique in the Jardins neighborhood. This turned out to be yet another wonderland…
… of dreamy fashion and interiors, and plates of snacks for guests to enjoy!
Adriana Barra is a Brazilian textile designer, beloved for her eclectic prints that feature tropical flowers, exotic birds, butterflies and fantastical creatures. The store’s upper level gives you a peek into her screen-printing workshop.
It’s worth stopping by to admire the interior design, with miniature dollhouses and “kawaii” characters. All of her clothes were works of art; Elizabeth took home this one-of-a-kind top.
Loving the mix of Japanese and Brazilian influences that I saw all throughout Sao Paulo. The two fuse surprisingly well when it comes to food and fashion.
Finally, we took a trip to Beco de Batman, or Batman Alley. This cluster of alleyways in the Vila Madalena district is covered in striking murals.
The city installed lights in this area, so visitors can now come at night to admire the street art. These works tend to be gigantic and showcase cheeky themes — like Brazilian footballer Pele embracing Batman.
Beco de Batman arose in the 1980s, when local art students began painting walls in this somewhat run-down area. One of them made a homage to Batman, and this took hold as the name of the alley.
Today, you’ll still see young artists making new graffiti, often featuring the Caped Crusader.
Say. My. Name. Don’t let the Walter White portrait intimidate you; this is a safe area (although you should always watch your belongings and be aware, no matter where you go).
Elizabeth gives the middle finger to the universe, much like she did on the cover of her bestselling book Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women.
Beco the Batman is constantly changing, as artists add their visions to these walls. There’s so much talent in Brazil.
Elizabeth and I had fun wandering around Sao Paulo. The city isn’t on most bucket lists, as it doesn’t have a specific tourism draw. However, if you look beneath the “unsightly” surface, you’ll find loads of inspiration.
Did this travel diary change your expectations of Sao Paulo, Brazil? Did you know there was such a large Japanese population here?
One more post to come, from Easter Island… and then we’re off to Asia for travel TV hosting! If you have any particular requests for Tokyo travel coverage, do let me know. The Sailor Moon cafe, Mori Digital museum, and Yayoi Kusama’s pumpkins are on my list already.