Beco de Batman

Street Art Break in VR with Tom

Tom Nickel
4 min readFeb 27, 2023

The art in the alley is world class, it keeps changing, and it’s been this way for more than 40 years. But before we can get totally into it, one question looms.

Where did the Batman part come from?

Are you hoping for a local origin story? Sorry. It’s the DC Comics guy. Some aspects of popular culture are global and have been for a long time. Street Art and Batman are two of them.

When street art began to emerge as a force in the 1980s, a fringe-y neighborhood on the west side of Sao Paulo called Vila Madalena was an obvious initial hot spot. Early on, someone drew a Batman portrait and the name became short-hand for the whole new scene going on there.

The original image itself is lost to history as far as I can find. But it gets redone a lot and you know what he looks like anyway.

For the Street Art Break in VR Event, I started in the circular courtyard at one end of the alley. Three small lanes lead out to the main street and they are each full of paint.

I looked on Street View for the most artistic images along each route — most spots were recorded at multiple points in time, as far back as 2010 and as recently as 2023.

Using seven 360 degree Photospheres, I made kind of a Best-of Beco do Batman in all the right places.

Plenty of famous street artists have created here; their work stays for a while and eventually gets painted over. From what I understand, these artistic comings and goings are loosely supervised by a Collective of some sort.

I would like to know more about how it operates now. Ironically, it is easier to learn about the Collective behind its emergence in the 1980s — Grupo Tupinãodá

São Paulo’s first documented street art collective got started during a period of autocratic military rule in Brazil. Unrest was widespread, change was brewing. Artists were deeply involved, using the streets to debate and educate and mobilize people.

Civilian rule returned to Brazil in a few stages in the late 1980s and street art at the time was part of a dynamic that led to change.

The political aspects of street art are a topic of serious scholarly research. Dr. Holly Eva Ryan of Queen Mary, University of London, UK, one of the leaders in this field, published a seminal book in 2016 on, “Political Street Art: Communication, Culture, and Resistance in Latin America.” It focuses on three national case studies — Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina.

In the early 2020s, street art is well-behaved.

It is beautiful and expressive. It can show people who are not usually shown in any kind of media. It can show what people really look like instead of promoting cultural standards that fuel consumerism.

At the present moment, however, street art is not seriously threatening power. Maybe it is inherently subversive by encouraging self-expression, but the direct role Dr. Ryan described in the 1980s is no longer in evidence.

Street art has been successfully appropriated by the state in most places.

Abandoned babies wrapped in cables feels like a strong statement about something but it does not clearly advocate something, like overthrowing the government.

At other times, Street Art has not only advocated — it has participated in the overthrow of regimes.

I think it will again.

Image by David Denton

Tom’s work has not appeared in The New York Times, New Yorker Magazine, The New Republic, the New England Journal of Medicine, or anything New at all.

He only publishes in obscure journals and, once upon a time, PBS Program Guides. Otherwise he just gives his work a URL and sends it packing on the web at places like Medium and Sub-Stack, where he enjoys a modest following.



Tom Nickel

Learning Technologist focusing on VR, Video, and Mortality … producer of Less Than One Minute and 360 degree videos