Maré from the Inside:
Art, Culture and Politics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Maré from the Inside is an interactive visual and textual exhibit developed through the collaboration of Brazilian and U.S.-based artists, activists, and academics. It offers rarely captured views into the lives of residents in Complexo da Maré, a group of 16 contiguous favelas (informal and impoverished working-class neighborhoods) in Rio de Janeiro. The exhibit demonstrates the diversity and creativity of the citizens of these communities while exposing the barriers favela residents confront in their everyday lives. In doing so, Maré from the Inside challenges long-standing and powerful stigmatizing narratives and suggests the need for a fresh set of political and cultural strategies capable of breaking the cycles of exclusion and marginalization experienced by favela communities. If you’re interested in reading more about the exhibit, check out the accompanying book, Maré from the Inside.

The exhibit is currently in Newman Library on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia until September 30th, 2021. The family portraits are located on the 2nd floor and the 26 street photographs and 3 documentaries are on the 1st floor.

the exhibit

Maré from the Inside is comprised of 30 family portraits, 26 street photographs, interviews with 4 of the photographed families, and 3 documentary films. The photographs draw from the experiences and reflections of Antonello Veneri, an Italian photojournalist, and Henrique Gomes, a cultural producer and resident of Complexo da Maré. The artists collaborated with 30 families to create an intimate visual representation of their homes. Together, the portraits capture the diverse human, familial, and urban identities of the Maré community in a respectful and non-fetishized way.

Accompanying the portraits are 30 additional street photographs curated by Gomes and taken by Veneri during a period of significant social change when the Brazilian military occupied Maré for 15 months ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games. The exhibit’s photographs are joined by three short documentary films entitled Occupation, Girl’s Life, and Headbanging in the House of God, which depict daily life in Maré and wrestle with ideas of race, religion, and violence.

Interviews with photographed families

Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas

Today, roughly 20% of Rio de Janeiro’s 6.7 million citizens live in more than 1,000 favelas. These communities range in size from just a few hundred to more than one hundred thousand. Some favelas overlook Rio’s picturesque beaches and its wealthiest neighborhoods while others are located on the city’s periphery, several hours from the bustling downtown. Favelas are not slums, shantytowns, or squatter settlements—most consist of densely-packed, multi-story houses of brick and concrete, with running water, electricity, garbage collection, and internet access. Favelas are sites of vibrant artistic and cultural production, self-sufficiency, and collective mobilization.

Favela artists and musicians are vital to broader cultural representations—they are at the heart, for instance, of Brazil’s famed Carnival and samba music—mixing African, European, and Indigenous religious and cultural expressions. Favela communities have also developed self-governing solutions to address the lack of both property rights and infrastructure. In addition, they were important players in the social movements that would bring an end to the military dictatorship (1964–1985) and launch Brazil’s re-democratization. And yet, favela residents remain targets of prejudice and discrimination, both in Brazil and internationally. Mainstream representations largely continue to portray favelas as communities of destitution, vice, and criminality. This is a fallacy.

Complexo da Maré

Maré is Brazil’s largest agglomeration of favelas with an estimated population of 140,000. It is home to various Afro-descendant peoples, migrants from Brazil’s impoverished Northeast region, numerous religious and ethnic groups, and immigrants from 15 countries. Maré is a lively set of neighborhoods, each with their own distinct but interconnected history, and with a variety of forms of cultural and artistic production as well as powerful social movements. Maré continues to be defined by the dynamism, resilience, and permanence of its population. The Complexo and its various neighborhoods have played an important role in the politics of the city and Brazil, gaining international recognition as the birthplace of Marielle Franco, a beloved Rio city councilwoman tragically assassinated in March of 2018. Maré’s residents have long been neglected by the city’s social and political institutions and, thus, much of life in the community is marked by inequality and inadequate infrastructure and social services. Much like other working class and Afro-descendent communities, Maré has been subject to repressive policing practices since the community’s formation in the early 20th century. To learn more about the history and development of Maré, please see materials available from the Museum of Maré and the Museum of Itinerant Images of Maré.

Policing Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro’s police are heavily militarized and favelas lie at the epicenter of the state’s literal and symbolic “war on drugs.” In the lead up to the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games, Rio’s government launched the Police Pacification Units, a public security initiative intended to reestablish state dominance in hundreds of gang-controlled neighborhoods by installing community policing units and engaging favela residents through welfare programs. In Maré, community policing never arrived. Instead, from April 2014 to July 2015, 2,500 military soldiers were permanently stationed on the community’s streets. The troops conducted 24-hour patrols, installed checkpoints, and frequently stopped and frisked residents—especially young black men. To find out more about Maré’s occupation, see here.

In the years since the Olympics, Rio has teetered on the edge of bankruptcy, requiring massive federal bailouts to pay public employees, including police. Accordingly, the Pacification program has disintegrated. In 2018, Rio police killed 1,534 citizens (a record), only to surpass that number in 2019 by killing 1,814 residents. By comparison, in the entire United States, police killed 992 citizens in 2018 and 999 in 2019. The violent status quo that has now persisted for several decades is a continuing source of frustration and trauma for Maré’s residents. By focusing on citizens’ lives and not solely the violence or crime occurring around them, Maré from the Inside challenges the dominant and sensational narratives regarding favelas. It also offers a deeper appreciation of how residents have managed to survive amid these difficult circumstances. You can find out more about public security in Maré, as well as the different ways the community has organized against structured state neglect and repression from the Redes da Maré NGO here. You can also find out more about militarization and policing in Rio and Maré in the accompanying exhibit book.

Maré from the Inside collaborators recording the “Trustees Without Borders” podcast at the VTIPG Community Change Collaborative, Virginia Tech, 2020 (Photo by Desirée Poets)
Maré from the Inside panel at Bertelsmann Campus Center, Bard College, 2019 (Photo by Nicholas Barnes)
Maré from the Inside collaborators set up the exhibit at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, 2019 (Photo by Nicholas Barnes)


We would first like to thank all of the families for opening their homes to Henrique Gomes and Antonello Veneri and inspiring us to keep on learning, listening, and cultivating knowledge. This exhibit was also made possible with generous funding and support from:

  • Brown University
  • Watson Institute for International Studies
  • Steven Bloomfield
  • Art at Watson Fund
  • James Green
  • The Brazil Initiative
  • Center for Latin American and Carribean Studies
  • Swearer Center
  • Cogut Institute for the Humanities
  • Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America
  • Pembroke Center for Teaching and Research on Women
  • Emma Sampson at iolabs
  • Sarah Baldwin
  • Carl Smith
  • Bard College
  • Melissa Germano
  • Office of Inclusive Excellence
  • Center for Civic Engagement
  • Center for the Study of Hate
  • Environmental and Urban Studies program
  • Global and International Studies
  • Human Rights
  • Anthropology
  • Sociology
  • Art History
  • Photography
  • Political Studies
  • Latin and Iberian Studies
  • Grinnell College
  • Political Science Department
  • Center for the Humanities
  • Rosenfield and Chrystal Funds
  • Kathryn Patch
  • Shuchi Kapila
  • Lynn Stafford
  • Institute for Global Engagement
  • Lesley C. Wright
  • Tilly Woodward
  • Milton Severe
  • Grinnell College Museum of Art
  • Virginia Tech
  • Institute for Policy and Governance
  • Community Change Collaborative
  • Department of Political Science
  • Virginia Tech Center for Humanities
  • Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention
  • College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • Beatriz Ribeiro Araujo
  • Scott Fralin at University Libraries
  • Virginia Tech Publishing
  • Peter Potter
  • Robert Browder
  • Dr. Luysyena Kirakosyan
  • Nathalie Poets

For more information about this exhibit and exhibits in the Virginia Tech University Libraries contact Scott Fralin,