On 1 January, Brazil’s far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro was replaced as Brazil’s president. As Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in, the tide started to turn on what have been dark years for the country’s marginalised communities. Despite gay marriage being made legal in Brazil back in 2013, and discrimination against queer folk criminalised six years later, the country’s LGBTQIA+ communities are still targeted. Brazil has the highest levels of violence against trans people in the world, according to its National Association of Transvestites and Transexuals, these numbers no doubt exacerbated by Bolsonaro’s renowned hate-fuelled comments like, “If I see two men kissing each other on the street, I’ll beat them up.”
The photographer Rodrigo Oliveira has been documenting the queer BIPOC communities found on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro since he returned to the city in 2019 from studying in Germany – the same year Bolsonaro came to power. Since then he has used his work to show how these communities have thrived in the face of adversity and found fervent strength in unity. “The community here is full of life,” he says. “Regardless of what we lived through the past four years under Bolsonaro, everybody was coming together and finding strength in ourselves, and hoping for a better future, for better days.”Oliveira uses his friends as his subjects, capturing them at different moments in their lives, full of joy and authenticity, creating images that have a direct link to the land in which the community thrives, be that in the favelas, the suburbs, or at the beach. “Working with my friends I’m able to get them comfortable enough to let go of that pressure of having to look perfect. It’s not about perfection. It’s about evoking some sort of emotion through the image… I think that in the past we were often portrayed as dangerous, as a threat to society. My work is about showing that this is a beautiful community. We respect each other and I think that we also deserve respect too.”
To celebrate the start of what is hopefully a new era for Brazil, Oliveira shares some of his unpublished work to highlight the power of community and the beauty that can be found in self-expression.