Day 56: Rio de Janeiro
The view is magnificent, a sweeping panorama of the finest beaches and the most sought-after property in the city. Vik notes the irony. 'Saint-Tropez surrounded by Mogadishu,' is how he describes it. 'Most of the people who live down there have never seen it from up here.'
There is, of course, an umbilical connection between the two, between what he calls the Asphalt and the Hill. Rio, says Vik, has one of the highest living standards in the world, because of the pool of cheap labour available in the favelas.
'And yet,' he says, 'you ask the people how often they've been to their maid's house or their nanny's house.' He spreads his arms 'They don't know where they live. They don't know anything about them.'
There is prejudice on both sides. Those down below imagine a place like Vidigal to be full of lawless bandits and drug dealers, and those who look down on the city are quite sure that anyone who can afford a twenty-million-dollar apartment in Ipanema must be a crook.
Vik is not short of evidence on both sides. He tells me some horrible tales of gang vengeance. Of a drug dealer beheaded by an opposing gang who then played soccer with his head as a ball; of retribution by necklacing – forcing a rubber tyre over someone's head and setting it alight. But on the whole he's optimistic, not just that things are changing with pacification, but that the contrast between rich and poor, of the employers and the workforce, can be a productive one, especially for an artist. The life of people on the other side is where an artist like himself can flourish. Recently he completed a series of powerful images with material from Jardim Gramacho, the world's largest rubbish dump, on the outskirts of Rio. He worked with a group of matadors, highly organized scavengers who walk the tip, picking through the city's waste for recyclable materials.
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