Thursday, 26 April 2012

Kindness generates kindness: an introduction to Profeta Gentileza (Prophet Kindness)

I am very interested in the work of José Datrino, a Brazilian man known as Profeta Gentileza (Prophet Kindness hereafter) whose inscriptions in the streets of Rio de Janeiro have resonated for over two decades now. 

He was born in the deep countryside of Sao Paulo in 1917 but by 1961 Kindness was living with his family in Rio de Janeiro. The news of a fire in a circus in the neighbouring city of Niteroi in December 1961, and of the hundreds of lives claimed in the flames, completely changed his life. Deeply touched by the tragedy, a few days later  he told his family he received a ‘divine call’ urging him to fulfil his life mission of spreading kindness.  

Pillar 5 shows Prophet Kindness' motto: 'kindness generates kindness' (Image by T. Peters Coelho)
I will discuss what happened between 1961 and 1990 in a later post but for now it suffices to say that in the beginning of the 1990s Kindness started intervening on the urban environment of Rio de Janeiro. He thus selected his urban ‘canvas’, 56 pillars of a flyover which  he carefully  numbered and wrote on (see the map here). This work would later become a landmark in the urban landscape of Rio de Janeiro (you can see the 56 pillars here). 
Pillar 13 (Image by T. Peters Coelho)
His writings rapidly became very popular in Rio but despite their relevance to local residents the city council decided to 'clean' the pillars in 1997 and all the 56 inscriptions were whitewashed. The reaction of local residents was almost as radical as the ‘cleaning’ intervention. Through petitions, protests, theatre plays, documentaries, concerts and various other events organized by local residents, academics and artists the council was finally sensitized to the value of the inscriptions. 

In 2000 the council promoted the‘restoration’ of the writings on the pillars, namely, the removal of the whitewash, and the re-touching of the inscriptions (see report of the first conservation campaign here). In addition, the council also included the inscriptions in the local heritage list (see the decree here).  

There are various things that interest me in this case. First of all, is how the perceptions of ‘dirty’ and ‘clean’ changed according to what was associated with the interventions and who they reached.  But I will discuss this in a later post!

If you want to know more you should look at this excellent website, where you will have an idea of the importance and impact of Profeta Gentileza's work.  

You can see a short documentary about his work here

This book has all the inscriptions translated into Spanish and English, a really amazing publication:
Guelman, Leornardo, Amaral, Dado & Kutassy, Marianna (org.). 2011. Livro Urbano do Profeta Gentileza. Rio de Janeiro: Mundo das Idéias 

Leia essa mesma postagem em português aqui


  1. Thanks for sharing! I enjoyed reading this post.

    I'm impressed by the different types of action that were taken by the local community in order to have the pillars restored. It's good to see that it's still possible for people to come together to fight for what they feel is important to themselves as well as their city.

    Looking forward to the sequel!

  2. The inscriptions are now legaly rotected as a city heritage,


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