Brazilian Artist Paints The Questions And Makes People Wonder

Keto with a red overlay over his face

Brazilian Artist Paints The Questions And Makes People Wonder

An Interview With Brazilian Artist Alexandre Keto On His Tribute to Black Lives Lost to Racially-Driven Violence.

Keto with a red overlay over his face
Alexandre Keto standing in front of his mural. Photo by Pascal DuBois

I got into art through social projects in my neighborhood in Brazil. A friend of mine came to my door and said, “Let’s go to this project teaching hip-hop culture.” I said, “Yeah, Let’s go.” I saw they were dancing break and doing graffiti, and it clicked with me immediately; I was, “I don’t know what it is, but I want to do it.” It’s important to say that I got into art through a social project and not a gallery or social media. I carry this social aspect in my work everywhere I go; it doesn’t matter if I’m painting a mural, a show, or whatever; art is a tool to connect with people.

Alexandre Keto sitting in front of his mural on 6th avenue and 43rd street in Manhattan. Photo by Pascal DuBois
Alexandre Keto sitting in front of his mural on 6th avenue and 43rd street in Manhattan, photo by Pascal DuBois

Ah, no. You’re doing this interview because of how someone taught you or how you watched interviews, the same way I was taught to do art was to interact and engage with the community; there was never any other way. I’ve had shows in Paris, New York, and Miami, but I’m still doing the social work. After I’m done with this project, I’m going to donate a wall to a community garden in Brownsville. I’m painting on 6th Avenue by Times Square, one of the richest places in the world, a place I can’t believe my art is at, and later when I’m done, I’m gonna donate a wall to the community; it’s always about social work.

When I was in school, I never was interested in art. The art they were teaching me was too rich, elite, the kind of art that I didn’t feel represented and connected with me. How could I connect with the art that didn’t show people that looked like my family, the people in my neighborhood? There was no way to be connected. I realized that so many more kids would be interested in art if we taught them in a different way. I think we should listen to the community, get them involved with the art. When I do work for the community, I don’t tell them what to do; I have an open mind, ready to listen. When it comes to street art, we have to allow them to express how they feel and listen to them; it gives them validation.

When I was in school, I never was interested in art. The art they were teaching me was too rich, elite, the kind of art that I didn’t feel represented and connected with me. How could I connect with the art that didn’t show people that looked like my family, the people in my neighborhood? There was no way to be connected. I realized that so many more kids would be interested in art if we taught them in a different way. I think we should listen to the community, get them involved with the art. When I do work for the community, I don’t tell them what to do; I have an open mind, ready to listen. When it comes to street art, we have to allow them to express how they feel and listen to them; it gives them validation.
Alexandre Keto applying paint to this mural on 6th avenue and 43rd street in Manhattan, photo by Pascal DuBois

I want my art to be knowledge, knowledge to celebrate and respect our African heritage. Brazil has the largest African population outside of Africa, but the government/society doesn’t want to acknowledge it. We have a really European-centric society that tries to mold us to think everything from Europe is good and everything from Africa is bad. I want my work to show there’s nothing wrong with having African heritage; in fact, we must be proud of it. Africa built our county and culture. Suppose you think about Brazil’s positive things, the music, the food, the capoeira, everything you say that’s positive about Brazil comes from Africa. Our identity is African; we have to recognize it, understand it, respect it.

A painted future representation of Trayvon Martin if he was still alive. Painted by Alexandre Keto. Photo by Pascal DuBois.
A painted representation of Trayvon Martin if he was still alive, painted by Alexandre Keto, photo by Pascal DuBois

Being an artist is the closest I can get to be free. I paint what I like, I paint what I love, or I paint what I would love to see, and I would love to see all of them alive. All of them had dreams and those dreams were stopped because some motherfucker decided to stop their lives. What people don’t realize is that their lives became a hashtag and stop being a life that was lived. When you kill a person, you’re killing the whole family; it’s not just one person.

When you don’t stop killing people, you kill their minds, they become afraid, they fear walking outside. With this work, I want to show, they were not only a name, not only hashtags, but they were also a person, a real person that lived.

A painted representation of Sandra Bland playing the saxophone. Painted by Alexandre Keto. Photo by Pascal DuBois.
A painted representation of Sandra Bland playing the saxophone, painted by Alexandre Keto photo by Pascal DuBois
Close-up of Agatha Felix
A painted representation of Agatha Felix, photo by Pascal DuBois

I paint the questions and make the people wonder.

The full mural on 43rd Street
The full mural on 43rd Street and Sixth Street near Times Square

SANDRA BLAND

February 7, 1987 — July 13, 2015

Sandra Bland was a 28-year-old African American woman who was found hanged in a jail cell in Waller County, Texas, on July 13, 2015, three days after being arrested during a pretextual traffic stop. Her death was ruled a suicide.

TRAYVON MARTIN

February 5, 1995 — February 26, 2012

Trayvon Benjamin Martin was a 17-year-old African-American from Miami Gardens, Florida, who was fatally shot in Sanford, Florida, by George Zimmerman.

MICHAEL BROWN

May 20, 1996 — August 9, 2014

Michael Brown Jr., an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by 28-year-old white Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the city of Ferguson, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis.

AGATHA FELIX

Date of birth unknown — September 20, 2019

Agatha Felix was going back home with her mother in a van when she was shot in the back in Alemão, one of Rio’s largest favelas. She was sent to a hospital but died.

Keto Painting with the names of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Agatha Felix overlay
Keto Painting with the names of Sandra Bland, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and Agatha Felix overlay

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