© 2018 Marc Ohrem-Leclef

Artist Statement

In 2006 I followed news of the infamous destruction of Beijing’s historic
Qianmen district ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games. The fact that an event
which is to embody the spirit of unity directly causes the destruction of historic neighborhoods and removal of thousands of residents struck me deeply.

Olympic Favela is a collaborative photography and video project that visualizes the resistance of residents in 14 of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas against policies of forced removals, implemented by the city government in preparation for the 2016 Olympic Games.

In 2012, in response to news reports of widespread evictions of residents from their homes and businesses through Rio's housing authority Secretaria Municipal de Habitação (SMH), I began photographing the people affected by these evictions, as well as the residents organizing resistance to SMH’s policies.

Olympic Favela consists of two types of portraiture:
The first type is environmental portraiture of the residents, photographed in front of their homes, which have been designated for removal by SMH with spray-painted code numbers. The second type is directed imagery of residents posing with flaming emergency torches, photographed in their communities. In these images the residents are no longer a subject that I look upon; their role in the image becomes active as they embrace the opportunity to represent their community, their struggle, and their resistance.

Referencing iconic imagery ranging from Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People and Bartholdi’s Liberty Enlightening the World to now-iconic news imagery of the Arab Spring, the residents' gesture and use of the torch in these photographs invoke ideas of liberation, independence, resistance, protest and crisis while also making use of the core symbol of the Olympic Games—the torch.

Together with the portraits, these images juxtapose the dynamics of celebration and togetherness with those of struggle based on social-economic disparity, which the mega-events are bringing to Rio de Janeiro and its citizens.

Copies of letters written to the head of SMH and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Organizing Committee asking for participation in the project are included. None of the politicians and committee members participated.

The portrait of Major Priscilla Azevedo shows a decision maker from the Executive Branch : Major Priscilla Azevedo headed the first successful effort of 'Pacification'. Pacification aims to rid a community of drug- and related gun-trafficking through an increased presence of para-military police-units. It has been implemented to date in many favelas, with both positive and negative results for the residents.
Major Priscilla Azevedo was the only representative on the side of city or state agencies to participate in the project.

The book OLYMPIC FAVELA was published by Damiani/DAP ARTbook in 2014.
The short documentary film OLYMPIC FAVELA premiered at the Seattle Intl. Film festival in 2016.
Please visit www.olympicfavela.com.