Bel Borba Aqui

Brazilian artist Bel Borba, subject of Bel Borba Aqui

“I don’t really understand the meaning of art,” says Brazilian artist Bel Borba in Andre Costantini and Burt Sun’s documentary portrait, “but I love to keep chasing this meaning.” For more than three decades, Borba has been pursuing said meaning around the streets of his native Salvador de Bahia, transforming abandoned apartment blocks and favela walls with impromptu murals and swipes of his brush. Prizing, as he puts it, “instinct, intuition and spontaneity,” he works with discarded—or, in the case of a Christmas tree fashioned from empty Coke bottles, donated—materials, not unlike an urban Andy Goldsworthy. (Through Oct. 14, Borba has shifted his home base to New York, where he is creating a new found-object artwork each day.)

Borba is amiably humble about his art, likening himself to a single sperm beside Salvador’s fecund body, but Bel Borba Aqui fixates on the “here” of the title, shadowing the man at his various methods of work and rarely straying into the neighborhoods he prizes. Musical montages of the subject shattering tile for mosaics or scraping drawings in clay are never less than visually diverting, but the technique grows wearying with overuse; the sequences blur together into something resembling a tourist-office promo. At one point, Borba speaks with keen perspicacity about embracing Bahian folklore even when it verges on stereotype. This doc mirrors the enthusiasm of that embrace, but not its artistry.

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