The “Prestes Maia” Reportage
Photography by Tatiana Cardeal
Photography by Tatiana Cardeal
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A former textile factory, the Prestes Maia building in downtown São Paulo was abandoned for over 12 years, until in 2002 several hundreds homeless families, united in the local group called the “Downtown Homeless Movement”, occupied the 22-story crumbling building. Despite the harsh conditions - the building lacking electricity and running water - the residents were able to create decent homes and establish a small cinema, a library, and several educational and social activities open to the public. For many homeless people in São Paulo, the community of Prestes Maia became soon a haven of integration and mutual support in an increasingly segregated society.
After years of struggle, the residents have been evicted in July 2007, receiving relocation bonuses and other forms of assistance from the city government. Prestes Maia Building has thus become a symbol of fight for many Brazilians standing up for the “right to the city”.
“The images in this photo-essay are fragments of a visual diary that I have been keeping during the Prestes Maia occupation in the heart of São Paulo, between 2005 and 2007. The site was considered the largest vertical occupation in Latin America. The building used to be a former textile factory and had been abandoned for over 12 years. Some 2,000 people were living there - members of the Downtown Homeless Movement, which is led by ten women from various squatted sites in the city. The groups are well organized, articulated and formed by thousands of people who formerly lived in the streets. Like an army without shelter, they founded the Homeless Movement not only as a way to fight for the right to housing, but also to restore their own dignity, threatened by lack of social care and strong social segregation.
There is a tremendous bias in Brazil against the homeless, who are often accused of being “rabble rousers” and “invaders”. These images seek to show that the homeless are honorable people, who are seeking the inalienable right to a dignified life. There are more than 400 sealed or under-utilized buildings in downtown São Paulo. It is in these locations that the homeless want to live. Nevertheless, in recent years, “urban revitalization” projects have pushed on raising real estate values, and there seems to be no room for the homeless in São Paulo’s urban politics. They are evicted and pushed in cortiços – precarious and overcrowded urban dwellings in the outskirts. The revitalization projects sponsored by the city government haven’t given priority to reducing inequalities, but have been instead favouring a state-sponsored social apartheid, which often makes use of violent actions, shock troops and security forces against the marginal.
In May 2007, after 5 years of occupation, evictions and mobilizations, a meeting was held that involved representatives of the City Council, the Mayor and other leaders from the federal, state and municipal sphere, in order to resolve the problem of the Prestes Maia families. After the meeting, in July 2007, the “Prestes Maia” occupation was finally brought to an end.
Part of the evicted families were temporarily relocated to new housings in the city centre provided by the federal government, together with a temporary financial support. The city council promised it would soon provide social housing, but as of yet, this still hasn’t happened. Other groups of families accepted to move out to the city outskirts, where cheaper housing had been completed under government support. Other families just moved to other temporary squats and joined the “Downtown Homeless Movement”, and are still fighting for the right to housing.
The Prestes Maia building is now closed, sealed with concrete blocks.
These photos are fragments of the history of São Paulo’s society. They are not only meant as testimonies of what once the Prestes Maia’s occupation was; I hope they may raise awareness on the necessity for people of all social classes to have a place in the city. They strive to contribute to the transformation of the urban space into an environment that does not segregate, but to the contrary, unites people around a common good.”
Be welcome to join the group The Prestes Maia Hope", to support the families of Prestes Maia.
Click here for more informations on the Prestes Maia.
Tatiana Cardeal was born and has lived most of her life in the city of São Paulo, Brazil. She learned the basic notions of photography during her teen years from her father. Photography had always been a hobby for her, until in 2004 she began to see it as a profession.
She has a Bachelor Degree in Visual Arts and worked for more than 10 years as an art director and graphic designer at several large Brazilian newspapers and magazines. During this period, she received three “Prêmio Abril de Jornalismo” (2000, 2003 and 2004) and a “Prêmio Esso de Jornalismo” (2003).
In 2000, she began to dedicate herself to visual projects focusing on social issues and human rights, working for charitable foundations and NGOs. From the late 2005 on, she focused exclusively on social reportages and documentary photography, with an emphasis on issues of social inequality, and with an artistic research that celebrates the humanity of different socio-cultural identities. She is currently partner of a small communications company, Papel Social Comunicação, which produces content and images linked exclusively to social, environmental and human rights issues.