Dispatches from Rio: An 'anti-souvenir' activist speaks

Rafael “Rafucko” Puetter and Dave Zirin.
Friday, June 3, 2016

Rafael “Rafucko” Puetter is a Rio-based artist and activist who put together an “Olympic anti-souvenir shop” to highlight the injustices that arrive with the summer games.

His exhibits had a biting wit that could make you laugh and cringe simultaneously. They also drew debate and controversy from activists who felt that he crossed the line between satire and appropriating people's pain. US-based radical sports journalist Dave Zirin spoke to Puetter about his art, the controversy. The interview below is abridged from Edge of Sports.

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How did you come up with the idea to do the Olympic anti-souvenir project?

I realised that the tourists coming to Rio won't take home the real memories of what's really going on here, behind the Olympic Games. So I wanted to make these souvenirs as a memory of the story that's not being told.

What are the stories not being told?

It's mostly police violence and forced evictions, mainly state violence against the population in order to make the Games possible.

And what kind of art did you produce to express these kinds of politics and ideas?

So I made the typical souvenirs but with a twist … [takes out two stuffed kid-friendly stuffed mascots]

This is the caveirão. In Portuguese it's “big skull”. It's the armoured car from the police that goes inside the favela [poor neighbourhood]. And this second mascot is the [crane] that makes the evictions.

I made also a jigsaw puzzle with the image of a car that has been shot 111 times by the military police with five innocent guys inside. This puzzle has 111 pieces, one for each shot. This actually happened at the end of last year.

This is the actual photo of the car with the marks with the shots. So there's 111 pieces so the person can recreate the scene. I also have this toy car that has also been shot 111 times.

I also made plates with some stamps of the special police in the [armoured] uniforms that they use for demonstrations. They're like Robocop.

These images of the police, they have no badges or ID. Is that illegal?

Yes, it's illegal. It happens all the time, and in the favelas it happens way more than at the demonstrations.

And this is the last one, this is a postcard with an original piece of a house from Vila Autodromo [a community bulldozed for the Olympics].

Is it true that the exhibit is shutting down?

Yes. People from the Black movement and people who work with families that lost their loved ones to the police, they said it was insensitive to make art out of suffering. In respect to the victims, I shut it down. I was trying to speak about their suffering, but if I make them suffer more, it doesn't make sense to me.

Some of them didn't like, some of them liked it. It's a bit controversial. Many people liked it, many people said, “You represent me, I'm glad that you have done this.” Some people from Vila Autodromo really liked the postcards and even took them to distribute themselves.

But there's no unanimity, so I cannot guarantee all of the people will like. But since some of the people who are directly affected by it wrote to me that I made more suffering, then I think it stopped making sense to me.

What do you think the role is of art in struggle?

I think the world we live in, especially in Brazil, is absurd. And I think the role of art is creating another absurd world so we can see that it's all made up, it's all a theatre.

And we can create different theatres, we can create different characters. And we can create a better world. Of course, I'm being very romantic about art.

Do you think the Olympics have left Rio better off in any way or is it an overwhelmingly negative legacy?

I think there is some infrastructure that will be left as legacy, but since there was a lot of corruption involved in the construction of this infrastructure, I'm not sure if this is a good legacy.
Also the human rights that were violated to make this infrastructure, it's not worth it.

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