Vote (13) with love

Recife is a seaside city, capital of the state of Pernambuco. It is located in North-eastern Brazil, a region where the candidate Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of the Partido dos Trabalhadores [Workers’ Party] (PT) has won in the first and second rounds in all of its nine states. In Recife Lula had 558,690 votes (56.32% of the valid votes), and the candidate for re-election Jair Bolsonaro (Liberal Party – PL), 433,317 (43.68% of the valid votes).

Despite the greater adherence of the local population to the left-wing candidate, the feeling experienced among the inhabitants of Recife during the electoral period was of great polarity around the two candidates. In the city streets, such perception was linked, among other symbols, to the colours representing the candidates: the red used by PT, and the ‘green and yellow’, of Bolsonaro, as these are not even the colours of the PL.  During this period, the green-yellow shirts, the flag and the anthem of Brazil lost part of their representativeness as national symbols, taken by the propaganda of a political leader along with the slogan of “God, Nation, Family”.

There was a permanent feeling of fierce dispute. Among the several reasons, there was obviously an apprehension about a result that was depending on the other regions of the national territory. Besides, there was a much greater flow of symbols, displayed in public spaces, which marked the political dispute: sports shirts of the Brazilian national team started to be used by Bolsonaro supporters; accessories such as earrings in the shape of a star, a PT symbol, became fashionable among those who supported the Petista; street traders made a kind of hanging clothes line to sell beach towels featuring the colours and photos of the two candidates; and flags – the national and the red – were printed on flat fronts or displayed on the streets,  attached to cars.

But this setting, which could have been an absolutely festive one, was also charged with a sense of fear, caused by the acts of violence committed in various parts of the country by Bolsonaro voters against those who expressed their support for former President Lula. It is also worth noting the symbolic practice expressed in the communicative gestures of the hands: the cocked forefinger upwards with the thumb open indicated the L, of Lula, while the forefinger forward, with the thumb closed, referred to a revolver, a gesture often used by Bolsonaro. These gestures sometimes served as a greeting, playfulness or threat. In Recife, the case of shots being fired at a flat whose front displayed a red flag, in September 2022, scared its inhabitants, who became wary of displaying political symbols. Their meanings became both intolerance and insecurity.

In this description of the streets in Recife inspired by a Walter Benjaminian narrative, through symbols, signs and meanings, I have tried to contextualize part of Recife’s ‘political ambiences’, perceived and registered in the urban experience and in the use of the city’s public spaces. A use that qualified its places as well as its inhabitants.

To go a little further into some reflections on the Recife scene, I chose graffiti written in red: “Vote (13) with love”. Associated with the candidate number 13, Lula, the slogan makes an appeal for non-violence. From the spatial point of view, these inscriptions were made in strategic locations: on building fronts with higher visibility, on streets with high traffic flow, such as intersections and mandatory vehicle crossings, all on the walls of vacant lots or abandoned buildings.

Such graffiti have contributed to the formation of “political ambiences” in Recife, that is, to the characterisation of places that anchored a position by their inhabitants. In the face of the proliferation of signs and symbols, the graffiti “Vote (13) with love” attempted to rescue, in a poetic way, some non-places in the city, giving a new use and meaning to abandoned structures, subject to real estate speculation. These structures started to hide an apparently secret message, but which expressed the innermost desire of part of the population: “Vote (13) with love”.

The photos that illustrate this essay refer to the wall of an abandoned house, an example of Modern Architecture, on a corner near the Federal University of Pernambuco. On a “one-way street”, the message with a red heart is written on a white wall next to the words “Pouso Suave [sweet place]” and “to sell”. Through the wall, people show an affective appropriation, with the implementation of a collaborative garden. In this context, far from being an act of marginality or urban pollution, the graffiti also seem to say: “they will never be able to stop the arrival of spring”, a sentence that set the tone for Lula’s last statement before he handed himself in to the Federal Police on April 7, 2018, at São Paulo’s ABC Metalworkers’ Union.

A few weeks after the results of the elections, the city starts to dress in green and yellow. The festive feeling, the passion for football, and the support for Brazil are recovering the symbolic connotation of the flag and the colours green and yellow: “It’s for the Cup”. The image got huge resonance on social networks, as can be seen here and here.

Our goal was to capture and interpret “the speech of the image of the city”(Ferrara, 2002), of a “polyphonic city”(Canevacci, 1997), where representations end up being constitutive of the reality lived and felt by its inhabitants. Starting from the example of Recife, we tried to present some reflections on how the city is perceived, experienced and represented, taking it as a communicational system, in which information is gathered about its inhabitants and, in this specific case, the political groups that constitute it.

Text and photos: Julieta Leite, LiArq – UFPE, o Laboratório interdisciplinar de Arquitetura: estudos e pesquisas em Psicanálise, Fenomenologia e Imaginários da Universidade Federal de Pernambuco.

Published on 09-12-2022


Canevacci, M. (1993). A cidade polifônica: ensaio sobre a antropologia da comunicação urbana. Studio Nobel.

Ferrara, L. D. A. (2002). Leitura sem palavras. Ática.

Spinelli, L. (2007). Pichação e comunicação: um código sem regra. Logos14(1), 111-121.




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