Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change
Research Article
2022, 7(2), Article No: 13

The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe

Published in Volume 7 Issue 2: 30 Dec 2022
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This article examines the street signs that carry the name of Brazilian Black Lesbian Leftist politician Marielle Franco, who was killed on March 14, 2018, in what is a still unresolved case. In exploring the many street signs made with her name as a form of protest, remembrance, homage to her legacy and visual activism, I explore what might be considered ‘Franco’s after-life’; a series of visual actions that occurred after her killing. I analyse the emerging context and dissemination of these street signs, their circulation not only on the streets and in leftist protests, but also on social media and in art spaces, and their global reach. I will also address the breaking of Franco’s street sign, as a form of backlash from politicians aligned with far right-wing politics. Franco mobilized intersectional agendas of race, class, geography, gender, and sexuality in her political struggles within parliament, during her term as a minority force in the Rio de Janeiro parliament. I aim to theorize the cultural practices that support the dissemination of these images, the effect of their visuality, and the complex network formed around them. At stake is also the question of visibility, and the circulation of the street signs in an international space, crossing national borders and facing the emergence of far right-wing movements worldwide. This article will foreground the importance of street signs as anonymously produced expressions of collective action and aesthetical-political action. Speaking from global Southern geographies, the analysis also reflects on challenges, visibilities, and erasures of Black Lesbians in different contexts. Lastly, I consider the Marielle Franco street signs as a site of transnational Black feminist theoretical possibility for delineating the diasporic.


To provide a broad national context in which to situate Marielle Franco’s case, her intersectional struggles and the circulation of street signs bearing her name, discussed in this article, the following is worth considering: Brazil has a long history with the “Black Atlantic” (Gilroy, 1993), it was one of the main destinations for enslaved black people from the African continent, and the last country in the world to abolish slavery (in 1888). Its political regimes were heavily based on a pigmentocracy, with no reparation for formerly enslaved people, or their descendants. The last civil-military dictatorship in the country (1964-1985) was also not followed by an accountability process for torturers, on the contrary, it ended with a blanket, unrestricted amnesty. The first female president elected was Dilma Rousseff (2011-2016), from the Workers’ Party, and during her impeachment process1, during voting in the National Congress, the former congressman Jair Bolsonaro praised Dilma Rousseff’s torturer2 from the dictatorial period. In 2018, Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right, military candidate, was elected president.

As an elected councillor with 46,502 votes3 from the PSOL Party4 in the city of Rio de Janeiro in the 2016 elections, the sociologist Marielle Franco arrived at the City Council after a ten-year career as a parliamentary advisor and human rights activist in the office of the former State legislator Marcelo Freixo, also from the same left-wing PSOL-RJ. Franco surprised electoral expectations by being the fifth most voted councillor running for the first time in an election. In addition to the ten-year ballast of human rights guidelines, her election campaign reflected recent feminist agendas in Brazil, as expressed in the street demonstrations and digital campaigns known as ‘Primavera das Mulheres’ (Women’s Spring)5 which occurred significantly from 2015.

Franco’s political persona is also a symbol and result of a long struggle in which, as she used to say, remembering Jurema Werneck6: ‘our steps come from far away’. Coming from the Complexo da Maré favela (slum)7, Franco took advantage of activities promoted by the Neighbourhood Association in her community, such as taking a university preparation course. This is evidence that social ascension was directly linked to the community actions within this favela. In her short, but remarkable, stint as a parliamentarian, Franco was able to forge and cultivate coalitions, translating community knowledge into concrete public policies focused on black populations, slum dwellers, LGBT8 people and advocating for the causes of people self-identified as women, inspired by the contribution of US and Brazilian black feminism9. The rise of Marielle Franco as a councillor can be seen, through two simultaneous layers: the first is associated with the social/racial struggles dating back at least to the period of redemocratization in Brazil (post-1988); and the second, with her death10, as an inflection point of the arrival to power of the extreme right in the country, after the coup against the elected president Dilma Rousseff (2016).

In this article, I will analyse some policies introduced by Franco in life and what can be considered as ‘Franco’s after-life’, which are street signs made with her name as a form of protest, remembrance, and homage to her legacy and as a form of visual activism. Her widow, Mônica Benício devoted her life to lesbian activism and to her memory and started to travel internationally, crossing borders to build solidarity. In 2020, Mônica Benício was elected councillor of the city of Rio de Janeiro, the exact same position that Franco had held11. Although Mônica Benício is a white person, Franco’s death paradoxically increased the number of black LGBT politicians that ran elections in the following years, deliberately carrying out Franco’s legacy, claiming black people’s protagonism in the political environment. I propose to insert Franco’s trajectory in a long historical line of black women’s feminist tradition, delineating black lesbian feminist transatlantic/transnational connections.

The research methodology uses cartography (Escossia et al., 2009) to follow the course of Franco’s performance in parliament. Cartography is a research procedure derived from a Deleuzian/Guattarian approach of focusing on agency rather than on subject/object and dismantling any possible neutrality of the research in favour of immersed and context-based research methods. I associate this method with ethnic-racial studies to situate the analysis from black lesbian perspectives. Five interviews were also carried out with activists, advisors to the parliamentarian and her ex-partner, Mônica Benício, in addition to monitoring posts on social media (Facebook, Instagram and Twitter) between 2017-2022. In what I consider an (after-)life, I analyse the case of street signs made with the name of the councilwoman and their way of activating Franco’s presence/absence, as well as her legacy and controversies regarding her image.


I will begin by exploring how Franco’s political identity as lesbian/bisexual12 is reflected in her performance as a parliamentarian, contextualizing the discourses and visibilities to understand the complexities of the production and circulation of the speeches around the street signs that bear the councilwoman’s name in the way of a trail, of a political after-life.

Franco worked closely with LGBT activist movements, understanding that the intersectionality that she carried in her own body should be extended to institutional policies in a very precise way, listening to the demands coming from social movements, in this case, black, lesbian and trans feminists. Franco also valued the ways in which the favela resists inequalities, proposing creative and unexpected solutions, mobilizing its social wealth. Franco operationalized the corpus of Afrodiasporic knowledge, using black lesbian feminist strategies to ‘survive’ in the Legislative Houses, whilst also exposing and denouncing State violence against vulnerable groups. To carry out her actions, Franco used strategies from the feminist movement in the City Council, such as challenging mansplaining13 by other parliamentarians and refusing to be interrupted in her speeches. A phrase that had symptomatic international repercussions after her murder was: ‘We will not be interrupted’.

During the campaign and the mandate of Marielle Franco, a phrase evoked was: ‘eu sou porque nós somos’ (I am because we are). This phrase refers to the African philosophy Ubuntu, which is based on the interdependence between all living beings, and underpinned Nelson Mandela’s understanding of South African liberation (Louw, 2010). In a post written on Twitter, referring to the success of her election, Franco says: “Never has Ubuntu philosophy ‘I am because you are’ made so much sense to me” (see Figure 1). Franco sought to highlight a diasporic socio-political identity through black transnational solidarity and signalled the continuing relevance of African philosophies and their cosmologies to feminist struggles.


Figure 1. Marielle Franco’s official Twitter on January 1, 2018 (Source: Marielle Franco’s Twitter Social Network).


Franco’s strength gained greater amplitude because she was able to be a catalyst for latent demands – as seen with the lesbian and feminist movements – and for understanding that these demands have an inherent intersectionality, that is, are directly related to militarization, public security, health, education, reproductive rights, etc., avoiding isolating the demands as if they were guidelines related only to a part of the population. This is a lesson that decolonial feminism seeks to teach: that it is necessary to observe gender and sexuality as produced from the ‘colonial difference’ (Lugones, 2010), in intersection with the specific situations of the agents involved, especially with coloniality and impoverishment. Coloniality is here conceived as the enduring effects of colonization (Quijano, 2005) to this day. As a result of these effects, eurocentric concepts and realities were imposed worldwide as norm. Coloniality imbues the entire existence of the beings in question, giving a specific tone to the confrontation of social inequalities, violence and the needs related to survival. Franco’s trajectory as a human rights activist also opens up the scope of possibilities for the intersectionality of such agendas, seeking to guarantee a basic right: the right to life.

Within fourteen months of her mandate, Franco created bills and proposed actions for the social protection of women. Key actions carried out by her include awarding the 2017 Mention Chiquinha Gonzaga14 to Educator and Transfeminist Book editor Jaqueline Gomes de Jesus – one of the few trans women with a doctorate degree in Brazil, which evoked the attention of parliament and sent a symbolically important message since this award has traditionally been dedicated to cis women. Notably, also, on the last day of her life, March 14, 2018, she organised the ‘Jovens Negras Movendo Estruturas’ (Young Black Women Moving Structures) meeting, held at Casa das Pretas, in downtown Rio de Janeiro (Figure 2).


Figure 2. Event on the Social Network Facebook promoting the debate at Casa das Pretas (Source: Facebook Social Network).


Casa das Pretas, located in downtown Rio de Janeiro, hosts and promotes events made by and for (but not exclusively) black women, managed by black activists and intellectuals. The event ‘Jovens Negras Movendo Estruturas’ included a round table of young women activists organizing strategies and exchanging experiences to inspire activist struggle. Franco was one of the speakers and the moderator of the discussion.

Eight days after the murder of Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes, and one day after the funeral that brought together a crowd on the steps of the City Council in Rio de Janeiro, Casa das Pretas organized an act in memory of Marielle Franco. It was a series of actions carried out on the night of March 22, 2018, at the Casa’s headquarters, involving the Jongo, speeches by black women and a symbolic act of fixing a sign with the name of Marielle Franco replacing the sign on Rua dos Invalidos (Invalid Street) (see Figure 3), performed by the group Panteras Negras (performance) and the group Angoleiras do Rio (berimbaus orchestra).


Figure 3. Panteras Negras (Black Panthers) at Casa das Pretas and surroundings, 03/22/2018* (Source: Still from personal video recorded at the event). *Valéria Monã (front) and, from left to right: Lisiane Niedsberg Corrêa, Priscila Carvalho, Debora Ambrosia and Sinara Rubia. Also participating in the group: Alyne Ewelyn and Barbara Silva Lewis (they were in the act, but not in this photo).


Invited by the Casa, the Panteras Negras group featured in the symbolic re-baptism of the street that houses Casa das Pretas with the street sign Marielle Franco. The group appeared on the balcony of the space with the photo of Marielle Franco stamped on the chest, uttering slogans against the genocide of the black people, mourning the killing of Franco and replicating the iconic gesture that refers to the Black Panther Party, reproduced in the image of Figure 3 by the members. In this act of Casa das Pretas, we see both artists and activists together in a common cause. This seems to have been the first moment in which the street sign with Franco’s name appears publicly, marking the absence/presence of the councilwoman and instituting the symbolic renaming of the street.


Before proceeding with the street signs’ analysis, I would like to read Franco’s political identity through the symbolic/psychic aspect of black lesbian experience. This reading enhances one more layer of gender coloniality (Lugones, 2010) signalling the lived experiences of black lesbians together with colonial processes. To do so, I invoke the concept of black lesbian symbolic annihilation (Glover, 2017, 2018, 2019a, 2019b) which aims to highlight the issue of life and death of black lesbian people, in a process that is both real and symbolic of erasing their existence, of asymmetrical solidarity with non-black people and of a close (and even everyday) relationship between the lives of black lesbians and death.

Necropolitics (Mbembe, 2018) structures the relationship of life and death in countries that were colonies, which is the case of Brazil. According to philosopher Achille Mbembe, ‘the late colonial occupation differs in many ways from the early modern occupation, particularly in its combination of disciplinary, biopolitics and necropolitics’ (2018: 41). In the digital age and because of the contemporary effects of coloniality, with a world order of white supremacy, necropower is an analytical expansion of the Foucauldian concept biopower pertaining to the control over the rights and quality of people’s lives. Necropolitics (Mbembe, 2018) refers to the ‘right to kill’ exercised by the colonizer, its control over who lives and who must die and the creation of power infrastructures that determine the relationship with death. What Mbembe (2018) names as ‘dead worlds’ would be a new and unique form of social existence in which populations are subjected to living conditions similar to particular forms of death, whether physical, social or civil, through imprisonments that make them undead, thus experiencing death-in-life.

This death-in-life, however, more often occurs in an ordinary, everyday way, considered as normal. Following the suggestion by the Brazilian philosopher and lawyer Silvio Almeida (2019) that racism is always structural, and ‘an element that integrates the economic and political organization of society’ (Almeida, 2019: 21), we can infer that we will be repeatedly confronted with it, in known or renewed forms. Almeida analyses, for example, how classification and division of people through the nation state and its nationalist ideology tries to erase conflicts among different groups and classes in the capitalist system. Instead of an exception, racism is the very politics of annihilation of black people in Brazil.

Both Mbembe (2018) and the Brazilian black feminist Tatiana Nascimento (2019) consider the theme of the end of racism as a (white) delusion. Although it is surreptitiously present in actions, speeches and, socially accepted conventions, we see that: ‘racism is the normal manifestation of a society and not a pathological phenomenon or one that expresses some kind of abnormality’ (Almeida, 2019: 22). Therefore, the City Council, like any other place, will be based on racist practices, in addition to the dominance of a heteropatriarchal norm with practices with different degrees of chauvinism, openly denounced in the tribune by Marielle Franco15 and by feminist movements from 2015 onwards.


One explanation for Franco not declaring overtly lesbian agendas during her electoral campaign, is that her existence as a black woman from the favelas could bring more people (and voters) together, avoiding confronting lesbophobia during the electoral campaign. Franco’s lesbian/bisexual political identity only became publicly politicized after her election. Although lesbian themes were not a campaign issue, they were not hidden issues either, as Franco was deeply involved in lesbian/bisexual activism, even if she was not part of any group. Franco’s political identity and visibility were, it seems, the result of a coalition negotiation between different forces and strategies. A likely hypothesis is that this is in sync with a history of black (lesbian) women’s social justice organization as a diffuse organization and subject to contingent contexts. This negotiation is the result of the need to move through varying degrees of heteronormativity and asymmetric solidarities, while remaining linked to a broad investment in intersectionality (Glover, 2017). Her political identity illustrated how laborious and precarious was the (in)visibility of her agendas, when addressing policies with a coalition agenda and with a black lesbian intersectionality.

Having participated as a citizen in previous Lesbian Visibility Day celebrations with autonomous activist movements and groups, Franco called these movements to her office to articulate the bill that would establish the Lesbian Visibility Day. Although the bill16 was not approved, Franco gave greater visibility to and promoted more articulation of the existing lesbian movements in the city. This can be attested by one political/cultural movement called Ocupa Sapatão17 (Occupy Butch) that gathered lesbian/butches/bisexuals on the streets in front of the parliament in the first year the bill was presented. Since 2017 this movement has gained autonomy and happens every year, during the Brazilian Lesbian Pride Day (August 29th). The special boost that Franco’s coalitions were able to provide was to give renewed direction to institutional politics: made in reciprocity with the demands of social movements, consolidating a fruitful and difficult link between activism and institutionality.

In an interview for this research, the executive secretary of the Brazilian Lesbian Articulation, Michele Seixas underlines another factor that contributed to the increase in lesbian visibility: the killing of Franco. Seixas draws attention to the symbolic character of the councilwoman’s killing, because Franco is (and represents) a black lesbian woman from a favela. The impunity of the case to date also contributes to the lives of black people (and lesbians) continuing to be a symbolic and real target for violence, including by the State.

I touch on a delicate point of visibility regimes: they can be, at the same time, recognition of the citizen existence of people and a mechanism by which they transform the people made visible into the target of (necro)power, increasing the margin of vulnerability to deaths from the police. Although it is extremely relevant that themes such as lesbianism and blackness are visible, it is necessary to consider the regime of visibility in which this visibility is inscribed. How is visibility guaranteed for agendas outside the norm without this implying that the lives of these people become the target of power, whether of defamation, prejudice, violence, or annihilation? The same argument can be made regarding Franco’s after-life: street signs were used, depending on the context, both as recognition of Franco’s legacy and struggle and as a target for lesbophobic racial violence, weaving a complex fabric between intersectional struggles, territoriality and (necro)power.

A link can be traced between representativeness and visibility. For Silvio Almeida (2019), representativeness refers to ‘the participation of minorities in spaces of power and social prestige’ (Almeida, 2019: 109, my translation). Almeida, however, makes a distinction between representativeness and power, arguing that symbolic representation (occupying spaces that were previously not allowed to black people) has relevance – but noting that visibility is not synonymous with power. The opening of political space for the articulation of minority causes makes a difference, especially when it is the final point of a collective political process, that dismantles narratives that discriminate and subordinate both agendas and people. However, visibility is not power. Almeida (2019, my translation) continues:

… the words of Charles Hamilton and Kwame Ture should echo in our minds and serve as a wake-up call: ‘Black visibility is not black power’. What the two thinkers claim is that racism is not just a problem of representation, but a question of real power. The fact that a black person is in leadership does not mean that he is in power, much less that the black population is in power (Almeida, 2019: 110).

This suggests that visibility needs to come with a concrete possibility of collective transformation because, otherwise, it remains hostage to the discourse that subordinates it. We can ask ourselves, on a case-by-case basis, whether visibility strategies respond in favour of the agendas or against them. Also, in the dissemination and circulation of street signs, there is the possibility of multiple narratives in relation to the guidelines defended by Franco, as we will see later.

The definition of neo-colonialism from a black lesbian perspective was developed by Jacqui Alexander (2006), contextualizing power as a force operationalized through imperial and neo-imperial recolonization: new forms of domination through the alliance between state power, corporations, the imperial culture of imposing behaviours and militarism in the era of global capitalism. Alexander (2006) puts in the foreground ‘the shared violence of heterosexualization so as to provide the connective web within and among colonial, neo-colonial, and neo-imperial social formations’ (Alexander, 2006: 181-194).

Perhaps one of the reasons Franco was the target of deadly violence was her success as a black lesbian feminist coupled with her exposure and denunciation of neocolonial necropower, being particularly critical of how it manifested in the militarization and police occupation of the favelas. For example, she was heading a commission that investigated police violence and therefore, there were speculations that police, state officials and militias (often formed of ex-police officers) were involved in her killing (see extensive coverage of the case on The Intercept). Franco exemplified how black lesbian existence ‘actually identifies a series of social relationships that point to cisheteropatriarchal18 instability and to the emergence of a possible critique within this instability’ (Ferguson, 2004: 100) that could irritate and upset the situation, which, from the point of view of maintaining power, had to be annihilated.

We are faced here with the dilemma of a highly visible black lesbian from the favela versus a ‘necessary’ erasure and the latent vulnerability of a death incited by a necropolitics (Mbembe, 2018). This dilemma is part of a broader history of populations that continue to be made invisible, annihilated in the ‘calm’ and/or restored to life only through their death. Quoting Franco in her last post on Twitter, on March 13, 2018, the day before her killing: “How many more have to die for this war to end?” Some questions are pertinent: could we understand Franco’s death from the intimate relationship of black lesbians with annihilation? Or put differently: would her death be in continuity with the fate of vulnerable black lesbian lives, who gain greater meaning post mortem?


So far, I have examined the relationship between life and death that structures black lesbian existences, seeking to highlight the powers and vulnerabilities surrounding Franco’s persona. I will now address how the posthumous image of Franco is disseminated, taking a path that highlights some acts such as aesthetic-political actions (Vasconcelos and Pimentel, 2017) and controversial reactions to the street sign created that bears Franco’s name. My focus is on the acts and contexts that produce Franco’s visibility through the street signs, and the meanings associated with it. For that, I understand the gestures with the street sign as a performative site that informs visual activism and I use the concept of aesthetic-political actions (Vasconcelos and Pimentel, 2017) to read them.

Aesthetic-political actions (Vasconcelos and Pimentel, 2017) intend to undermine the foundations on which the arts are established (authorship, artist status, art circuit, etc.), establishing its anti-capitalist and counter-art stamp. These actions may be within or outside the arts system, but they are intent on dismantling normative (racist) principles. A striking feature of aesthetic-political actions is the insignificance of the artist behind an action. Strictly speaking, anyone can practice an aesthetic-political action, there is the proposition of art without an artist or, in other words, a “do it yourself” drive. This is because what is at stake is the event that is, in itself, collective and anonymous. I suggest to understand the dissemination of Marielle Franco’s street signs as an ‘art without an artist’, where anonymity plays an important figure and the main action are the contexts in which the street sign circulates and their meanings.

Despite the use of the street sign as a protest (as an aesthetical-political action), there were further appropriations of it that were motivated by far-right politics, tackling what Patricia Hill Collins (2000) named as controlling images, which is the attempt to perpetuate racially gendered violence and oppression by distorting and naturalizing it through imagery. After the street sign was substitued on the Casa das Pretas Street, candidates for State legislators would use it to reinforce their racist and lesbophobic intentions as propaganda for them. The year 2018 had elections for State legislators and then-candidate Rodrigo Amorim, affiliated with the right wing Partido Social Liberal (Social Liberal Party - PSL), published on his Facebook page the breaking of the aforementioned sign amid a campaign exhibition on September 30, 201819. In addition to PSL supporters, candidates Daniel Amorim and Wilson Witzel, the latter affiliated with the Christian Social Party (PSC), were present at the act, as seen in Figure 4.


Figure 4. Video still recorded during Rodrigo Amorim’s campaign (Source: O Globo Newspaper).


In his videotaped speech20, Amorim confesses to having broken the street sign, capitalizing on this action in favour of his campaign (it is worth remembering that he was one of the most voted State legislators this year). Claiming damage to public property, Amorim removed the street sign himself and broke it, showing the broken street sign to his supporters. Why breaking it? Why displaying it during his election campaign? It is worth mentioning that, later, in his office, half of this street sign was framed and hung on his office wall.

The humour page O Sensacionalista launched a campaign in reaction to this incident: a crowdfunder entitled Eles rasgam uma nós fazemos cem (they rip one, we make a hundred), whose objective was to raise the amount of 2 thousand Brazilian Reais for the manufacture of 100 street signs that would be distributed free of charge in front of the City Council, on a day and place to be announced21. There was a huge social mobilization around these manufactured street signs, shared on social media, and also spread by Benício’s page on Instagram (Figure 5).


Figure 5. Call for distribution of the thousand street signs (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Social Network).


The campaign broke the collection record, totalling BRL 42,333 and a thousand street signs were made, distributed free of charge on October 14, 2018, seven months after the killing. Not only did the humour page distribute the street signs, but they also produced staged photos of the signs, for social media dissemination, as seen in Figure 6 and Figure 7.


Figure 6. Staged photo of the distribution of street signs on October 14, 2018 (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Social Network).


Figure 7. Staged photo of the distribution of street signs on October 14, 2018 (Source: Mídia Ninja).


On this day, one of the replicas was replaced by Mônica Benício, performing again the Black Panther’s iconical gesture after having substituted the street signs (Figure 8).


Figure 8. Record of the moment of replacement of referred street sign, by Mônica Benício (Source: Mídia Ninja).


There was also a version of the sign in green and pink, colours of Samba School Estação Primeira de Mangueira, to mark Franco’s legacy in the 2019 Carnival parade. The Samba School had as a theme ‘A bedtime story for grown-ups’ as hommage to great (still unrecognized by official History) indigenous and Afro-Brazilian people and had Franco as one of the honoured people. The refrain of the samba song says: ‘Brazil it’s time to listen to Marias, Mahins, Marielles, Malês’22.

As seen in Figure 9, the flag from Mangueira’s Samba School during the parade says: ‘They break a street sign and we win a Carnival’, referring directly to the aforementioned far-right wing politicians. Street signs appeared as well at art and culture events of greater or lesser visibility, such as the Berlinale Film Festival in 2019 (Figure 10) and as a backdrop for lives during the COVID-19 pandemic, visually denouncing the non-resolution of the case and at the same time honoring the councillor’s legacy. The street sign gained a ‘life of its own’ in the sense that it spread to different contexts, and Marielle Franco Institute created a georeferenced map, which we will see later. Although the art of the street sign has been made available on the networks in portable document file (pdf) format, in a deliberate copyleft action, that is, without copyright collection, it also circulates in the commercial sphere as a product to be sold on demand (Figure 11).


Figure 9. Flag in homage to Marielle Franco displayed in the final wing of the Samba School Estação Primeira de Mangueira Parade (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Page).


Figure 10. Marielle Franco street sign in the hands of actor and director Wagner Moura at the Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, 2019 (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Page).


Figure 11. Sale of street sign on the Mercado Livre website (Source: Screenshot from the Mercado Livre website).


In Figure 12 the street signs were used as a mobilisation campaign for raising funds for Instituto Marielle Franco, created in 2020. In Figure 12 we see Franco’s mother, Marinete da Silva, holding one replica. However, the force of dissemination of the street signs seems to be expressed in the imagination and in the very impossibility of tracking it from the resumption that each one made of it, generating, in a certain sense, an effect of anonymity.


Figure 12. Disclosure of request for financial support to the Marielle Franco Institute (Source: Twitter).


Brazil has a tradition of protests that is linked to artistic and activist practices. Art historian André Mesquita (2008) discusses the overlap of art and activism, retracing a historiography – or a counter-history beyond the canon, of collectives’ and activists’ practices from 1990 to 2000, that actually can be traced back to the fight against the dictatorship in the 1960s. The new scenario of global protests from 2008 on, enhanced practices situated in-between art and activism. The year 2013 in Brazil multiplied activists and artistic practices under what was known as June Days23. Several forms of visual activisms were used as protests, and the Franco street sign is inscribed in this wider context.

By observing and retracing the different emergency contexts of the street sign that bear the councilwoman’s name, I highlight its dissemination and change in meaning in different environments. Through the absence/presence of the councilwoman, I point out the complex legacy that intertwines life and death, violence and hope, related to this case. It was the revival through different contexts and agents that made the street sign visible and that emphasized the struggle for pressure with the Brazilian State to solve the murder. The Marielle Franco street sign does not only point in one direction, it allows different circulations (desired or not). Very often the street sign is held in memory of the Black Panther Party’s iconic and indexical gesture of the struggle for (full) black lives. As we have seen, it was also broken during a campaign and also appeared in the art circuit as a means of remembrance. There is, therefore, a visuality that is socially constructed, that gains different meanings according to the context.

It is therefore necessary to ask what is the intention involved in each of the deployments of the street sign and to what extent it questions or reinforces (hetero)normativity. It is important to carefully assess the desires that drive the raised fist and the street sign between the hands. In which cases would there be an active subjectivity (Lugones, 2010) that creatively resists oppression and a less subordinate existence, and which cases reinscribe the street sign in the normative framework of a necropower (Mbembe, 2018)? As it is a contingent assessment, there are various degrees and possible combinations of resistance and compliance with the norm, without watertight categories, and always subject to reversal.

Thus, we can see how visual activism (and visual propaganda) through the street signs, produce different degrees of agency – reinforcing or dismantling oppressions through images – depending on the contexts in which they appear. That is to say that the name of Marielle Franco is polysemic and charged with her struggles in life and after-life. So, there is a wide range of reading possibilities of the spread of the street signs, in a complex assessment that ruptures binary readings (oppressing/resisting) of hegemony and that can serve to indicate the kind of coalitions and alliances each context can produce or achieve.


The murder of Marielle Franco and her driver Anderson Gomes has drawn attention, locally and internationally, and organizations were mobilized, such as Amnesty International, to increase the pressure to solve the crime, as well as stimulating different forms of remembrance and protest on an ongoing basis. Mônica Benício, Franco’s widow, dedicated herself to activism, both nationally and internationally. From 2018 to 2021, she attended Lesbian conferences, seminars and gatherings. Some examples from the year 2019 are: a union in Barcelona (Spain) created the ‘Marielle and Mônica’ award to reward companies with initiatives in favour of the LGBT community; Benício gave an opening speech at the Central Asian European Lesbian* Conference, in Kiev (Ukraine); she participated in the Europride LGBT Pride Parade in Toulouse (France); spoke at the ‘Ella’ meeting (Spain and Costa Rica) and at the 1st Global LBQ Feminist Meeting in Cape Town (South Africa). The Marielle Franco street sign was often taken as a setting and as a scenario and record image of such events, propagated via social networks. We also saw, in 2019, movements and conferences taking place in her memory, such as the circulation of Mônica Francisco in several European countries (Switzerland, Germany and France). That same year, a street in Lisbon, a square in Berlin and a hanging garden in Paris25 were approved to bear her name, officially realizing the fate of the street sign.

Numerous acts and remembrances were held in various cities around the world. A georeferenced map was made to track the spread of the Marielle Franco street sign, an action carried out by the website On this site you can download the art of the street sign for free, find a partner printer and feed the site informing how many and where the street signs were glued. The site, as an anonymous and copyleft action, documents in quantity and georeferences the distribution of the street signs around the globe (Figure 13).


Figure 13. Marielle Franco street signs georeferenced on the map on 01/04/2020 (Source: [Accessed: 1 April 2020]).


Lorde (2017) distinguished lesbians from women identified as women and examined the differences, shared mutuality, and support systems among them. Marielle Franco worked in the same direction as Lorde did, as to build coalition through differences. In one of Lorde’s most famous texts, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House (2017: 17), she explains:

For women, the need and desire to feed each other is not pathological but redemptive, and it is within this that the knowledge of our real power is rediscovered. It is this real connection that is so feared by the patriarchal world. Only in a patriarchal structure is maternity the only social force open to women. Interdependence between women is the way to a freedom that allows the I to be, not to be used, but to be creative. This is a difference between the passive be and the active being.

Similar to the legacy of Audre Lorde, Franco has inspired transnational black lesbian feminist memorialization in diverse locations around the world. Lorde and Franco are two black lesbians often evoked in the black feminist struggle of various strands. They both spread their legacy beyond writing and political life. In another co-incidence, the end of Franco’s speech on March 14, 2018, was precisely a quote from Lorde, delivered in English, demonstrating the speaker’s investment in inhabiting this foreign language: “I am not free as long as another woman is a prisoner, even if her chains are different from mine”.

As a political legacy of Franco, through effort and popular mobilization, in 2018 four black legislators were elected who carry out Franco’s intersectional political work: Talíria Petrone26, Mônica Francisco, Dani Monteiro and Renata Souza, all from the left-wing PSOL party. The last three worked directly under Franco’s mandate. It is important to note that Erica Malunguinho, a black trans woman, was elected in the Legislative Assembly of São Paulo by the same party. All claim this legacy, having been inspired by the work of Marielle Franco. In a paradoxical situation, black women in political office (as well as black lesbians) continue the battle to protect black lives. However, as noted by Monica Francisco27, elected state legislator in Rio de Janeiro, there is still concern about her physical safety and little could be done legally in terms of reducing her vulnerability in parliament. So continuing Franco’s legacy means still facing the same dangers she faced. Continuing social mobilization also has the consequence of ‘protecting’ these people, insofar as media visibility places them, even if temporarily, in more protected areas. As another initiative that seeks to carry forward the legacy, Anielle Franco, Marielle’s sister, created the Marielle Franco Institute in 2020 to defend her memory.

Diaspora and (neo)colonial occupation imply the control of black bodies with inherent transnational coloniality. Transnational feminism articulates struggles beyond geographical limits, which was marked after the killing of Marielle Franco, since the struggle for justice for her death crossed borders and interconnected different places.

Authors Audre Lorde (2018) and Alexander (Alexander and Mohanty, 1997) are fundamental references for transnational feminism, which centres its geopolitics, spatiality, history and theory in feminist analyses to defend a reflexive praxis in relation to unequal and complex levels of oppression and privilege between people and places, in order to understand and connect people in global processes of (re)colonialization that sustain capitalism, life chances and the various processes of identification and culture.

Marielle Franco’s trajectory is inscribed in this black lesbian diasporic genealogy against coloniality, in specific movements such as the Lesbian Visibility Bill, in the dissemination of street signs as a remembrance of her legacy and also in more general movements of a decolonial Afro-diasporic nature. This effort reterritorializes lesbian existence against its erasure and reinforces black lesbian contribution in diaspora. The case of Marielle Franco teaches us about collective strategies of (black) lesbian survival in political institutions (in life) and on the streets of the world (in after-life) and challenges us to think about the limitations of these existences in an environment of extermination of their futures.


The core argument of this article is to outline and reflect on the visual activism of the street sign named to honour executed councillor Marielle Franco. For that, it was important to contextualize the emergence of Marielle Franco in the Brazilian political terrain as an important figure that condensed black lesbian fights against multiple oppressions and structural racism and its complex relation to black life and death. In an earlier section, I discussed the visibility of her figure and how she could be inscribed as a target for her existence, her background, and the ethos she was fostering in the parliament. In the next section, I analyse the street signs in different contexts, showing how the polysemy of Franco’s image can be mobilised in ways that resist oppression (aesthetic-political actions) as well as in undesired ways of distorting her image for far-right-wing propaganda purposes.

Moving on to her importance as an international symbol, I include her in a long tradition of black transnational feminism that delineates a diasporic continuum that connects those facing similar struggles and challenges. One of Franco’s legacies was the increase in the number of black women elected in politics. Another is the many and various forms of remembrance and homages to her work worldwide. Mônica Benício’s election as a councillor indicates an ongoing struggle for justice, as does the creation of Instituto Marielle Franco. The spread of the street signs that carry the name of Marielle Franco visually situates her as an important defender of human rights and produces a site to evidence the struggles that black (lesbians) persons face in everyday life and institutionalised politics. Lastly, inserting the dissemination of Franco’s street sign in a transnational (and diasporic) black feminist tradition illuminates global processes acknowledging and fighting for the future of black (lesbian) lives


This article was supported by the CEFET-RJ.


Pedro Miranda, Campaign Assessor, February 10th, 2019.

Head of Legal Plenary of Marielle Franco’s Cabinet, February 13th, 2019.

Michele Seixas, ABL – Brazilian Lesbian Articulation, February 16th, 2019.

Vanessa Leite, Brazilian Researcher on Gender and Sexuality, February 20th, 2019.

Camila Marins, Lesbian Front of Rio de Janeiro, Brejeiras Magazine, February 21st, 2019.

  1. Process initiated after the re-election of Dilma Rousseff, in 2014, and completed in 2016. The accusation of fiscal irresponsibility against President Dilma was not legally supported, but even so, it was carried out by removing the president from her position without ending her mandate. For an analysis of that period, see: Solano, E. (ed). (2018). O ódio Como Política. São Paulo: Boitempo.

  2. One of the most notorious torturers of the civil-military dictatorship in the country, General Carlos Brilhante Ustra.

  3. Source: (Accessed: 1 September 2019).

  4. The Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (Socialism and Liberty Party) formed in 2005. Franco was elected by this party.

  5. Themes of historical relevance in the feminist political agenda, such as the legalization of abortion, the fight against harassment and violence against women, gained visibility from campaigns and demonstrations in 2015, which became known in the media as ‘Primavera das Mulheres’, in allusion to the Arab Spring, in Tahrir Square, in 2011. Source: (Accessed: 1 September 2019).

  6. Jurema Pinto Werneck is a black feminist, doctor, and writer. An activist in the black women’s movement and in human rights, Werneck took over the board of Amnesty International Brazil in 2017, an organization that has been a crucial disseminator of the fight for justice for the murder of the councillor and her driver in 2018. In 2006, Werneck published the book “Saúde da Mulher Negra: Nossos Passos Vêm de Longe” (Black Women’s Health: Our Footsteps Come from Far Away). Source: (Accessed: 1 September 2019).

  7. Complexo da Maré is an impoverished neighbourhood of 17 favelas (slums) in North Zone of Rio de Janeiro with more than 140 000 inhabitants. The region was inhabited in the 1940s and became a neighbourhood in 1994.

  8. I will use the acronym LGBT and not the term queer in this article to respect the self-naming of social movements around Marielle Franco’s cabinet. The boundaries between LGBT and queer in Brazil are the subject of a long historical and conceptual debate and exceed the scope of this article.

  9. In her speeches, Marielle Franco mentioned the Americans Audre Lorde and Angela Davis, the aforementioned Jurema Werneck, among others as sources of inspiration in anti-racist and feminist struggles.

  10. State legislator and black intellectual Renata Souza coined the term political femicide to name violence against parliamentarians, especially black women, based on the case of Marielle Franco. Although I do not use this term in this text, it is worth mentioning this development.

  11. Source: (Accessed: 10 June 2022).

  12. According to Mônica Benício (Meireles, 2020), Franco positioned herself either as lesbian or as bisexual, depending on her political agenda. I emphasize that the interest of this paper is her political identity, therefore, the collective and enunciated identity in the governmental scope. Her sexual orientation and relationship with Monica Benício gained relevance after the murder. Benício then became an important public figure in the defence of human rights in general, and, in particular, lesbian visibility.

  13. Neologism of the words in the English language man and explaining, aiming to highlight the lack of credibility in women’s words manifested by redundant explanations by men of subjects in which women are often experts.

  14. The Mention Chiquinha Gonzaga is a title awarded by the City Council of Rio de Janeiro to women who have distinguished themselves in the democratic, humanitarian, artistic and cultural fields at all levels (municipal, state, and federal). Source: (Accessed: 1 September 2019).

  15. One of these cases was her last speech on March 8, 2018, in the tribune of the City Council that currently bears her name. In the middle of her speech, one of the councillors interrupts her to deliver a flower, to which she ironically responds: “Não vem me interromper agora, né? Homem fazendo homices (sic), meu deus do céu ...” (“Don’t interrupt me now, okay? Man doing man stuff, oh my god …”), that is, interrupting a woman’s speech (manterrupting) to carry out a supposedly flirtatious gesture. Video available online at: (Accessed: 1 September 2019).

  16. The bill was rejected twice by a margin of two votes. Benício, in 2021, already a councillor, re-introduced the aforementioned bill and, once again, it was rejected in parliament. It was approved on September 13th, 2022.

  17. See: (Accessed: 5 September 2022).

  18. The term cisheteropatriarcal is coined to merge and express into language how patriarchy is linked to compulsory heterosexuality and cisgender beings, automatically benefiting cis, male, heterosexual persons in society.

  19. Amorim is accused of violence against women in politics, such as transgendered councilor Benny Briolly: (Accessed: 23 September 2022).

  20. Available at: (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

  21. Available for viewing at: (Accessed: 1 April 2020).

  22. (Accessed: 23 September 2022).

  23. June Days were street protests that happened in several towns in Brazil, emerging in a context of discontent with rising crisis and, at the same time, emerging fascism.

  24. Translation of the tweet: “Now several people are talking about Marielle, others are hearing about her and willing to help, but don’t know how. We, from her family, have created the Marielle Franco Institute to seek for justice, preserve her memory, multiply her legacy and water her seeds”.

  25. Source: Accessed: 29 August 2019).

  26. Talíria Petrone was first elected in 2016, the same year as Franco, as councilor in the city of Niterói, right next to Rio. They were quite often together, discussing their role as black women on politics. Petrone was elected Federal Deputy in 2022. (Accessed: 23 September 2022).

  27. Roundtable personal note Legados de Marielle: Desafios do feminismo negro e interseccional (Marielle’s Legacies: Challenges of black and intersectional feminism), from a speech given by Mônica Francisco at the Freie Universität (Berlin/Germany), on March 25, 2019. See:
    (Accessed: 31 March 31 2020).

Figure 1 Figure 1. Marielle Franco’s official Twitter on January 1, 2018 (Source: Marielle Franco’s Twitter Social Network).
Figure 2 Figure 2. Event on the Social Network Facebook promoting the debate at Casa das Pretas (Source: Facebook Social Network).
Figure 3 Figure 3. Panteras Negras (Black Panthers) at Casa das Pretas and surroundings, 03/22/2018* (Source: Still from personal video recorded at the event). *Valéria Monã (front) and, from left to right: Lisiane Niedsberg Corrêa, Priscila Carvalho, Debora Ambrosia and Sinara Rubia. Also participating in the group: Alyne Ewelyn and Barbara Silva Lewis (they were in the act, but not in this photo).
Figure 4 Figure 4. Video still recorded during Rodrigo Amorim’s campaign (Source: O Globo Newspaper).
Figure 5 Figure 5. Call for distribution of the thousand street signs (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Social Network).
Figure 6 Figure 6. Staged photo of the distribution of street signs on October 14, 2018 (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Social Network).
Figure 7 Figure 7. Staged photo of the distribution of street signs on October 14, 2018 (Source: Mídia Ninja).
Figure 8 Figure 8. Record of the moment of replacement of referred street sign, by Mônica Benício (Source: Mídia Ninja).
Figure 9 Figure 9. Flag in homage to Marielle Franco displayed in the final wing of the Samba School Estação Primeira de Mangueira Parade (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Page).
Figure 10 Figure 10. Marielle Franco street sign in the hands of actor and director Wagner Moura at the Berlinale Film Festival in Berlin, 2019 (Source: Monica Benício’s Instagram Page).
Figure 11 Figure 11. Sale of street sign on the Mercado Livre website (Source: Screenshot from the Mercado Livre website).
Figure 12 Figure 12. Disclosure of request for financial support to the Marielle Franco Institute (Source: Twitter).
Figure 13 Figure 13. Marielle Franco street signs georeferenced on the map on 01/04/2020 (Source: [Accessed: 1 April 2020]).
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AMA 10th edition
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Meireles FP. The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change. 2022;7(2), 13.
APA 6th edition
In-text citation: (Meireles, 2022)
Reference: Meireles, F. P. (2022). The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, 7(2), 13.
In-text citation: (Meireles, 2022)
Reference: Meireles, Flavia Pinheiro. "The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe". Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change 2022 7 no. 2 (2022): 13.
In-text citation: (Meireles, 2022)
Reference: Meireles, F. P. (2022). The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, 7(2), 13.
In-text citation: (Meireles, 2022)
Reference: Meireles, Flavia Pinheiro "The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe". Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change, vol. 7, no. 2, 2022, 13.
In-text citation: (1), (2), (3), etc.
Reference: Meireles FP. The Visual Activism of Street Signs and the Legacy of Marielle Franco: Disseminations, Controversies, and Resistance around the Globe. Journal of Cultural Analysis and Social Change. 2022;7(2):13.
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