“I feel myself as a hero,” says Bel Borba, “Because artists in the city used to be a hero, so, be a hero! The story of my life and the story of my career and the story of my city: I have an intense relationship with my town.” Sometimes called the “People’s Picasso,” Borba appears in André Costantini and Burt Sun’s Bel Borba Aqui as he puts into action his plan—initiated 35 years ago—to make art everywhere in and of his community in Salvador, Brazil. That is, he seems the very hero he describes—symbolic, self-assured, and immersed in his neighborhood. This effect is managed through a series of interviews with the artist, as well as more than one montage showing him at work.
More impressionistic than narrative, the film leaves open the possibility that Borba’s self-image is his most effective art piece. Open at Film Forum this week and next, Bel Borba Aqui illustrates Borba’s version of himself with canted, fast-cut, colorful images of a kind of action-art-making: whether painting or chalking murals, creating tiles, or shaping sculptures of clay or steel, he appears unstoppable. “Every day for me is a surprise,” he says, “I never know, I just go I go deep, I go honestly, I go intensively, I just go.” Most remarkably, and no matter how you read Borba’s self-performance, the film makes it increasingly difficult to parse distinctions between his public act and his apparently private self, his aspirations as artist or emblem, celebrity or citizen, by immersing you in the industry of is art, the labor, the energy, and the responses to it.