Our amiga Gilda Monreal, AKA Fiya, is one of the most progressive and active artists for social justice we know. She works in film, theatre and visual arts, where these days she focuses on graffiti and street art. With connections and projects on the go in Toronto, Montreal and across Latin America, she managed to also help run a giant international hip-hop and street art festival last month in São Paulo. We asked her to tell us all about it, so here’s her take. 

The International Essencia Festival 2012 hit the streets of São Paulo, Brazil this past month. As the Director of International Relations and Multimedia, I was coming into this festival from the outside, from Canada. And I have to admit that I was overwhelmed, in the best way possible, with this festival, and that I’m still trying to assimilate the experience that was Essencia SP 2012. I can definitely say it was one of the most powerful large scale co-creations I have actualized so far with my sister Shalak (Elisa Monreal, Director of Essencia São Paulo 2012), and Brazilian brother-in law Smoky (Bruno Revitte, General Co-ordinator). Thankfully, Shalak got to Brazil earlier and worked her magic in São Paulo, laying the ground work for what would be one of the best experiences we’ve had.

Each year this nomadic hip hop festival moves to a different country, creating a space for international artists to exchange knowledge and experience. Essencia also looks to celebrate the four elements in an effort to raise awareness about our natural resources. This year’s theme was dedicated to Earth, and resulted in a powerful and beautiful ode to Mother Nature. This year united five continents and featured top artists from Australia, Brazil, Chile, Canada, France, Senegal, the Philippines, and the United States.In collaboration with Brazil-based artists and organizations, Essencia put on an intense week of hip hop concerts, b-boy competitions, art gallery exhibitions, youth workshops, and graffiti jams resulting in large scale murals around the city. With over 80 artists and 300 participants, the festival garnered international attention for its artistry, community engagement, and ability to unite international artists to raise awareness on Mother Earth.

It is also important to note that Essencia is completely independent, grass roots, and auto financed with our hearts and souls. By hearts and souls, I mean that the Essencia Festival exists because we, the entire Essencia Arts Collective, believe that great things can be born from communities coming together and working to achieve a goal. And every time, Essencia has shown us that it connects with people, inspires them, and comes alive.

This year, the one thing we did not predict would happen, and that we are so grateful for, is the impressive number of people in São Paulo who with open arms welcomed the festival. Dozens of artists, organizations, cultural centers, along with hundreds of participants supported, contributed to and helped to make this festival possible.

Essencia -- Fiya works on a mural with kids

Fiya and the kids work on a mural

This collaborative energy-synergy is what made Essencia come to life. It is also what created a unique space that went beyond a show case of artists, it became a space of connection between artists, communities and youth. In the last couple of days of the festival there were moments where public tears and hugs were shared (of grown men and women), and it became clear that the festival had become more about unity, education, community empowerment, and love.

Essencia mural

Essencia mural at the 2012 Festival in São Paulo

For the trust, sincerity and energy that each artist and participant gave, we are ever so grateful, it was a gift for us.

The Essencia exhibit is currently being held at the Matilha Cultural Art Gallery, where the art work of 35 international and local artists went on display on April 3, and will remain on display until May 12. The Essencia Art Collective looks forward to bringing the festival back to Canada in 2013!

For further information about Essencia and the exhibition visit: www.essenciartcollective.com and http://www.matilhacultural.com.br/

 All photos by Ratão Diniz