Escadaria Selarón

Today, I’m taking you on a trip back to Rio de Janeiro. One of the most iconic landmarks of the city is the Selarón Steps (Portuguese: Escadaria Selarón) in the middle of the city. If you haven’t heard of it, that’s fair, seeing as it didn’t exist thirty years ago. The Chilean creator of this famous work of art, Jorge Selarón, moved to Rio in 1990 and soon after decided that he wanted to beautify the giant staircase near his house.

Lapa, the neighborhood where the steps are located, was very run down back then. It was a place where drug addicts, drug traffickers, and sex workers hung out regularly. Selarón’s neighbors didn’t understand why the artist spent time caring for this neglected road. Coincidentally, the city was working on revitalizing the city center, including Lapa, at the same time. tourists began to come visit the man in colorful polo shirts laying tiles on the steps. Selarón worked on the tiles all the time, and he encouraged visitors to buy his paintings so he could continue to work on the tiles. As his project became world-renowned, people began to send tiles from across the world for him to include in the ongoing efforts. Selarón constantly changed out tiles and entire sections to bring new life into the work. Selarón said the steps would only be finished when he died and he himself became part of the steps. Unfortunately, that day came in 2013, and Jorge Selarón was found dead on that same staircase.

Selarón saw his art as a way to better his neighborhood and bring art to the people. It was important that his art was in a public space, where anyone could come an appreciate it. He took a then abandoned staircase, turned it into a beautiful work of art, and helped to rehabilitate the image of a forgotten neighborhood.

Today, the Selaron steps are one of Rio’s most famous tourist spots. It connects the bustling downtown area to the bohemian Santa Teresa. People still live in the houses along its sides. The green, yellow, and blue taken from Brazil’s flag glimmer in the tropical sun. The multi-colored mosaic welcomes tourists from across the world into the vibrant energy of the city. (Funny enough, lots of locals have never heard of it.) Still, Jorge Selarón lives on in the artistry of his tiles.

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About the Author

Andrew Walker Watson is a junior International Studies Major. He loves Brazilian rap music, discovering useless facts, and, naturally, writing. If he could ever stop staring out into space, he would like to start a global movement to change the world and guest host Saturday Night Live.