Escadaria Selarón aka the Selaron Stairs are a set of world-famous stairs in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. They are the work of Chilean-born artist Jorge Selarón who claims it as “My tribute to the Brazilian people.” In 1990, Selarón began renovating a dilapidated stairway that ran along the front of his house. At first, neighbours mocked him for his choice of colours as he covered the steps in fragments of blue, green and yellow tiles – the colours of the Brazilian flag. It started out as a side-project to his main passion, painting but soon became an obsession. He found he was constantly out of money so he sold paintings to fund his work. It was long and exhaustive work but he continued on and eventually covered the entire set of stairs in tiles, ceramics and mirrors.
Running from Rua Joaquim Silva and Rua Pinto Martins, the stairway straddles both the Lapa and Santa Teresa neighbourhoods in Rio de Janeiro. There are 250 stairs measuring 125 metres long which are covered in over 2000 tiles collected from over 60 countries around the world.No sooner than the stairway is ‘finished’, Selarón starts work on another section, constantly changing it so that it is an ever evolving piece of art. Selarón considers the work as “never complete”and claims that “This crazy and unique dream will only end on the day of my death”.
Originally, tiles for the work were scavenged from various construction sites and piles of urban waste found on the Rio streets. Today however, most of the tiles are donated by visitors from all around the world. Of the 2000+ tiles, 300-odd are hand painted by Selarón depicting a pregnant African woman. Selarón doesn’t comment on this except to say that it is a “Personal problem from my past”. In recent years the work has spilled over to stairways at the foot of the Arcos da Lapa.
Jorge Selarón was born in Chile in 1947. He traveled, lived and worked as a painter and sculptor in over 50 countries around the world before arriving and deciding to settle in Rio de Janeiro in 1983. He began renovating the staircase on a whim in 1990.Many times, his phone was cut off and he was threatened to be evicted from his house due to being unable to afford the living costs. He sold many paintings and accepted donations from locals and travelers to continue his work. Since 1977, Selarón has claimed to have sold over 25,000 portraits, all featuring the same pregnant woman which mostly funded his work.It has been a labor of love for the artist who still resides in the same house by the stairs he lived in when he started the work. He is mostly unfazed by the attention given to him by curious onlookers and tourists alike. He is constantly spotted at the stairway working by day and treating drunken revelers to fascinating anecdotes by night.
The work has featured in many famous magazines, newspapers, travel shows, documentaries and commercials. National Geographic Channel, American Express, Coca-cola,Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Time and Playboy are just some of the media that the stairway has appeared in/on. It has also featured in numerous video clips such as Snoop Dogg’sBeautiful and U2 also filming there. It is also considered an iconic tourist attraction of Rio de Janeiro with travellers from across the globe visiting it every day. In 2009 the staircase was featured in an emotional Rio’s 2016 Olympic bid video clip called “The Passion Unites Us”.