The Selaron Steps (Escadaria Selarón) is a set of world-famous 215 steps which connect the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The steps are 125 meters long and covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world. They are the work of Chilean-born painter Jorge Selarón, who lived in a house next to the steps. Originally, tiles for the work were scavenged from various construction sites and piles of urban waste found on the Rio streets. But in later years most of the tiles were donated by visitors from all around the world. A few hundred tiles are hand painted by Selarón depicting a pregnant African woman or artist himself looking pregnant. The steps have become a Rio de Janeiro’s landmark and transformed the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighborhoods forever.
Selaron was constantly changing the tiles so that the stairs were an ever evolving piece of art. The artist considered the work as “never complete” and claimed that “This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”. That day was January 10, 2013 when Jorge Selaron was found dead on the steps he spent his life decorating… Selaron’s statement about his work is recorded on tiles at the base of the staircase (click on the image to view English version or read below):
THE GREAT MADNESS
This work of art began in 1990, as a personal tribute to the people of Brazil, using the colours of the Brazilian flag green, blue and yellow.
In 1998, when the stairway was almost finished, I discovered a place where old European tiles are sold (at Praca XV on Saturdays) to collectors and designers. I was so impressed that I knew I had to buy them, even if only one at a time. But as I brought these new imported tiles back, I realized there was no space left at all.
So I then invented the idea of always changing the tiles in a continual labour of substitution. This original idea generated a living, constantly changing, work of art.
Normally a work of art is changed or restored when there’s an earthquake or fire etc… But this work is very different. People sometimes think that I used broken tiles to save money; but the fact is tiles in the colours of the Brazilian flag are not available. I had them made especially for this stairway. Then I broke them up with a hammer and mixed the shards together with whole tiles. The stairway has become a world collection of tiles, with more than 2,000 (two thousand) different examples.
There are tiles from Portugal- Spain- England- Scotland- Ireland- Germany- France- Morocco- Holland- Belgium- Czechoslovakia- Austria- Switzerland- Poland- Egypt- Algeria- Turkey- Israel- Greece- Italy- Syria- Lebanon- Iraq- Saudi Arabia- Russia- India- Pakistan- China- Japan- Thailand- Indonesia- Philippines- Korea- Tunisia- Uruguay- Nigeria- South Africa- Argentina- Columbia- Chile- Peru- Venezuela- Bolivia- Ecuador- Canada- USA- Mexico e Brazil.
On 7 December 1999, I cried with emotion when I succeeded for the first time at painting my own tiles. It was an unforgettable day. This was all that I needed to be able to paint the Pregnant Woman who has always appeared in my painting ever since 1977 because of a personal problem… Since then, I have been painting tiles to honour all who have helped to make the history of this great nation: composers, singers, sportsmen, journalists, TV presenters, professionals, businessmen…
Also some of my friends, clients, neighbours, who have always helped me with this work of art with sacrifice, obsession and great love.
You too can take part by sending me a tile in the post. I promise to send you a photo of the tile in the stairway which has 215 steps.
I will only complete this crazy original dream on the last day of my life.
Click on image to view full size.