When Australian jewelry designer, musician and rapper Mars Castro came to Rio in 2010 she fell in love – with a boy and Rocinha. Inspired by the local gang culture she started to design jewelry, turning ammunition into a creative space.
How was your image of Favelas before you knew Rocinha?
The only thing I knew of the favela was the Baile Funk music and funk parties. I’m a rapper as well and came to Brazil partly to work with DJ Marlboro. But he doesn’t hang out in the favela’s, he’s rather commercial these days. We were pretty much just expected to follow him around in his large entourage of girls. From VIP’s at his exclusive DJ gigs back to his mansion and it was a bit sexist and debauched really. I kinda broke away from that crowd after a while because I wanted to meet some genuine people.
What is your relationship to Rocinha?
Well I actually met a boy from the favela. And he was very different to the people living on the ‘asfalto’ (non favela dwellers) or wanna be’s that I had been hanging around with. He was genuine and super down to earth. And a total breathe of fresh air. When he showed me where he lived and I got to meet all his friends and family I was relieved to be getting to know the real Cariocas and hang out in the larger community. And that happened to be Rocinha. So one long epic love story later.. I ended up living with him and his family in Rocinha. He’s now my husband. And we have one foot here in Melbourne, Australia, and the other in Rocinha, Rio.
How would you describe the place, the vibe here?
To me Rocinha is my second home. I see it as a beautiful, thriving community. Full of lovely hard working people. I however realized the stigma of living in a favela after hanging out with ‘Richer Brazilians’ and there is such a great divide between working class (from the favela) and the ‘Upper Class’.
The media fuels the pre conception of the favela being such a dangerous place. But the reality is within this country that is so full of corrupt officials and police you just can’t believe anything if the mainstream news. Of course there’s the guns/gangster side of the favela. But it’s not lawless. No one’s running around shooting at everyone wrecklessly like portrayed in the movies or news.
Infact the only law and order I ever saw in Rio was in the Favela. There exists what is know as the ‘Law of the favela’ which is: No killing, no stealing, no raping and no physical abuse, it’s not tolerated at all. I felt alot safer within the favlela than outside. This ‘law’ created by the ‘Don’ of the favela is there to keep the peace and to keep police out of the favela, so he and his workers/gangstas can do run their business (selling drugs) with no problems. These guys can’t leave the favela because they’ll get arrested so they make their community the best place it can be.
I actually met him (Nem, the Don) before he was arrested and he was giving money (drug money) to do repairs and construction within the favela, giving money for medicines to poorer residents, putting on parties for the younger people. Infact for the last 30 years the dons of the favela and the gangsta’s are the ones who have built the infrastucture, including the entire water supply. The government didn’t want anything to do with the favelas. To the government they are an embarrassing problem that aren’t even on the maps.
How would you describe the art and culture scene within the Favela?
I don’t know if the people in the Favela actually care about going to an art gallery or writing essays on culture. As the working class, they’re probably so busy working 6 days a week for minimum wage that they don’t recognise how creative they actually are. For example: To build a thriving community out of not much, to see a hill and go forth to build your own water supply, hook up your own electicity (gatas) and make a home by your bare hands out of sticks and bricks is artistic genius in itself. Step back and look at the Favela. IT IS ART. And when you live in it, I don’t think you realise how amazing it is. Are the people in the favela artists? Absolutely: To build something so amazing out of nothing is the ultimate in creativity.
Why is Rocinha an inspiration for you?
There’s too much inspiration to list. A majority of my inspiration for the jewelry came from seeing how the ‘traficantes’ are fighting for their territory, literally. Fighting to feed their family. In such a corrupt country with such disparity between rich and poor, the people obviously do what they need to. To see gangsters on the street carrying weapons and that sense of power and the fashion associated to it.
The powerful imagery of gold chains and big guns was inspiring because of the total contrast from the outside world of corrupt police, corrupt politicians and militia. Everyone’s out to make a buck for themselves and not spreading the money or love. The gangstas are the only ones that aren’t hiding behind a facade.
Gangstas aside, in my day to day life my inspiration comes from the joy the people of Rocinha exude and share. Dancing all night, Barbeque’s on the roof, Hanging out with your neigbours in the street, knowing everyone, having such an amazing and sharing community. The simple vitality and positivity of people who’s homes are known as ill reputed favelas, but to them it’s their home, their communidade.
Why did you pick guns and ammunition as a material for your work?
I saw a gangsta one day in the street , he looked about 15, was carrying an Ak 47 and wearing this T-shirt that read PAZ (PEACE) in huge print across the chest. That really made me think you know. It confused me alot. Was he being ironic? Or was he actually a peacekeeper?
The more I thought about it.. what choice did he have growing up in a disadvantaged community, within a prejudiced system, with limited education because he can’t afford school fees. This is the only opportunity to empower himself. That juxtaposition of peace and violence got me really thinking.
What is the message that you want to spread with your jewellery?
I am adamantely against the corruption of Brazil’s police and politicians, against the stereotyping of favelas, I am all for empowering yourself – not with guns however, but with the message of unity. That we are all fighting the injustices of this world. And we don’t do it with guns.
The bullet shells are empty and discarded, and we fill them with beauty. With natural crystals with powerful energies that uplift and inspire and heal. I call this collection “Crystals not Pistols” just like “The pen is mightier than the sword” – The crystal is mightier that the pistol. The inspiration comes from so much injustice, but the message we wish to spread is one of consciousness and hope.
Where are your materials sourced?
Empty bullet cases are sent to me from various people, usually spent shells from gun ranges. I’m pretty sure none of my bullets have been used to shoot anyone. However I do make custom pieces sometimes where people send me bullets from their travels from the Middle East for example and want me to convert them to a jewelry keepsake.
The crystals I use are all naturally formed. The amethyst and Citrine are beautiful in colour and quality. Sourced obviously from the Mother producer of stunning gemstones – Brazil itself. A few stones also, such as Clear quartz I source from Madagascar and Smokey Quartz from Australia.
Do you think that Favelas are an Inspiration for more and more artists nowadays?
Artists are typically the black sheep in their family/community, as are the favelas. They’re the misunderstood black sheep on the horizon, built illegally and out of nessesity with whatever was available.
The favela is an inspiration to idealists, to architects to horticulturalists to musicians to artists, to all people who see how naturally and beautifully they’ve grown. It’s hard not be inspired by their vibrancy. The local musicians songs and painters pictures of the favela give a beautiful perspective on the obvious love of they have for their home. I ♥ Rocinha!