food / travel

The Sao Paulo Cemetery Full Of Artistic Life

A view from Parque das Cerejeiras
A view from Parque das Cerejeiras
Camila Appel

SAO PAULO â€" Cemeteries are rarely considered places of beauty and pleasure. The one in the Sao Paulo neighborhood of Jardim Angela was also grim for another reason, considering that in 1996 the UN ranked it the most violent urban region in the world. But now a part of this graveyard is bringing some smiles and levity, doubling as a place of leisure and art for visitors.

In a region that still bears the marks of poverty, with bare brick houses, some of which have illegal connections to water and electricity networks, this private cemetery called Parque das Cerejeiras (Cherry Trees Park) has been turned into an artistic landmark of sorts.

"The locals have few options when it comes to culture and leisure in the neighborhood," says Daniel Arantes, the cemetery's manager. The well-equipped urban parks Burle Marx and Ibirapuera are 15 and 30 kilometers away, respectively. But these places actually have one notable thing in common with Parque das Cerejeiras: They boast benches designed by artist Hugo França.

Arantes first fell in love with França's creations during a visit to the Inhotim contemporary art museum in the Minas Gerais state and decided to contact him for a one-of-a-kind request: to turn the cemetery's eucalyptus trees into a new series of his famous benches. Parque das Cerejeiras now displays the second-largest collection of França's works, with 22 pieces.

França transforms fallen or dead trees into what he calls sculptural furniture. "Wood is too much of a noble raw material to be wasted, and its natural decomposition is toxic," he says.

The artist tries to make the most of the trees' natural organic form, which is also intended to raise awareness and educate people about ecology, waste and sustainability. He didn't think twice about Arantes' offer. "I thought it was a great idea to produce works for a cemetery," he says.

But Parque das Cerejeiras has much more to offer visitors. Among its other artistic initiatives is the Bosque das Palavras (the Words' Wood) designed by Ale Bufe, where the words of the sentiments most represented on the tribute wall are forged in steel and displayed in the garden. For those who prefer verses, there's also a selection of poems from Carlos Drummond engraved on large plates.

The right place for introspection

França believes contemporary art's first function is to inspire reflection. And this matches perfectly with the naturally introspective atmosphere of a cemetery. "The relationship between people in an environment such as Parque das Cerejeiras is different from that in usual cemeteries," França says. "This helps people's understanding of death because associating death with something ugly is different from associating it with something grand and beautiful."

He says he believes in death as an end, as opposed to a passage between one dimension to another. "I'm an atheist and a materialist," he explains.

França's heaviest piece of art is here in Parque das Cerejeiras. It weighs a stunning 17 tons, the result of the fusion between two enormous stumps standing upside down. There's another significant work, a geometrical form that looks to the sky. According to the creator, this is a way of indicating spirituality, of having a common sense of associating death and the sky.

The Inhotim museum is a constant source of inspiration for Daniel Arantes to mix art and landscape architecture. Other cemeteries outside Brazil have also inspired his imagination, such as Forest Lawn in Los Angeles and Parque Del Recuerdo in Chile.

Parque das Cerejeiras looks like a recreational park, and that's exactly how locals think of it. People in the neighborhood come here on weekends, and just-married couples visit the park to take their wedding photos.

"It offers a splendid view," says Karina Souza da Silva, who's been living in the area for 23 years. "When people step on the lawn, they don't think they're in a cemetery. They believe it's just a park."

She says her grandfather spent his entire life in Jardim Angela and bought a plot in the cemetery when it was founded in 1993. "He always talked about how the only proper and beautiful place he would have been in was the one where his body would be laid to rest," she explains. "For visitors, there's no prejudice about this place being a cemetery. Everybody feels good here."

The park also has animals, fruit trees and a huge magnolia tree. "The cemetery doesn't need to be a sad-looking place," Arantes says. "It can be a welcoming place, one full of life."

Parque das Cerejeiras still remains a rarity, with future projects to include a orchidarium, an amphitheater and a butterfly garden. "The life cycle of a butterfly has a lot in common with ours," Arantes says.

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Paying tribute to the victims of the attack in Kongsberg

Terje Bendiksby/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA
Carl-Johan Karlsson

The bow-and-arrow murder of five people in the small Norwegian city of Kongsberg this week was particularly chilling for the primitive choice of weapon. And police are now saying the attack Wednesday night is likely to be labeled an act of terrorism.

Still, even though the suspect is a Danish-born convert to Islam, police are still determining the motive. Espen Andersen Bråthen, a 37-year-old Danish national, is previously known to the police, both for reports of radicalization, as well as erratic behavior unrelated to religion.

Indeed, it remains unclear whether religious beliefs were behind the killings. In an interview with Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter, police attorney Ann Iren Svane Mathiassens said Bråthen has already confessed to the crimes, giving a detailed account of the events during a three-hour interrogation on Thursday, but motives are yet to be determined.

Investigated as terrorism 

Regardless, the murders are likely to be labeled an act of terror – mainly as the victims appear to have been randomly chosen, and were killed both in public places and inside their homes.

Mathiassens also said Bråthen will undergo a comprehensive forensic psychiatric examination, which is also a central aspect of the ongoing investigation, according to a police press conference on Friday afternoon. Bråthen will be held in custody for at least four weeks, two of which will be in isolation, and will according to a police spokesperson be moved to a psychiatric unit as soon as possible.

Witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

Police received reports last year concerning potential radicalization. In 2017, Bråthen published two videos on Youtube, one in English and one in Norwegian, announcing that he's now a Muslim and describing himself as a "messenger." The year prior, he made several visits to the city's only mosque, where he said he'd received a message from above that he wished to share with the world.

Previous criminal history 

In 2012, he was convicted of aggravated theft and drug offenses, and in May last year, a restraining order was issued after Bråthen entered his parents house with a revolver, threatening to kill his father.

The mosque's chairman Oussama Tlili remembers Bråthen's first visit well, as it's rare to meet Scandinavian converts. Still, he didn't believe there was any danger and saw no reason to notify the police. Tlili's impression was rather that the man was unwell mentally, and needed help.

According to a former neighbor, Bråthen often acted erratically. During the two years she lived in the house next to him — only 50 meters from the grocery store where the attacks began — the man several times barked at her like a dog, threw trash in the streets to then pick it up, and spouted racist comments to her friend. Several other witnesses have since described him as unstable and a loner.

The man used a bow and arrow to carry the attack

Haykon Mosvold Larsen/NTB Scanpix/ZUMA

Police criticized

Norway, with one of the world's lowest crime rates, is still shaken from the attack — and also questioning what allowed the killer to hunt down and kill even after police were on the scene.

The first reports came around 6 p.m. on Wednesday that a man armed with bow and arrow was shooting inside a grocery store. Only minutes after, the police spotted the suspect; he fired several times against the patrol and then disappeared while reinforcements arrived.

The attack has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms

In the more than 30 minutes that followed before the arrest, four women and one man were killed by arrows and two other weapons — though police have yet to disclose the other arms, daily Aftenposten reports. The sleepy city's 27,000 inhabitants are left wondering how the man managed to evade a full 22 police patrols, and why reports of his radicalization weren't taken more seriously.

With five people killed and three more injured, Wednesday's killing spree is the worst attack in Norway since far-right extremist Anders Breivik massacred 77 people on the island of Utøya a decade ago.

Unarmed cops

As questions mount over the police response to the attack, with reports suggesting all five people died after law enforcement made first contact with the suspect, local police have said it's willing to submit the information needed to the Bureau of Investigation to start a probe into their conduct. Police confirmed they had fired warning shots in connection to the arrest which, under Norwegian law, often already provides a basis for an assessment.

Wednesday's bloodbath has also fueled a long-existing debate over whether Norwegian police should carry firearms — the small country being one of only 19 globally where law enforcement officers are typically unarmed, though may have access to guns and rifles in certain circumstances.

Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert and professor at the Swedish Defence University, noted that police in similar neighboring countries like Sweden and Denmark carry firearms. "I struggle to understand why Norwegian police are not armed all the time," Ranstorp told Norwegian daily VG. "The lesson from Utøya is that the police must react quickly and directly respond to a perpetrator during a life-threatening incident."

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