News Register for our weekly news digest here.

Arts Professionals Respond to Far-Right Brazilian President Elect Jair Bolsonaro

Arts professionals are responding to the newly elected far-right Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, whose plans for the country’s arts and culture so far have included slashing or merging various government bodies, such as the Ministry of Culture, as part of a larger proposal to cut down federal agencies. He has also made controversial comments on the devastating fire that destroyed over twenty million historical objects in Rio de Janeiro’s National Museum in September. In an interview with the Associated Press, he said: “It caught fire already. What do you want me to do?” 

Bolsonaro won the presidential elections on Sunday in a sweeping victory, receiving 55 percent of the vote and defeating his leftist rival Fernando Haddad of the Worker’s Party, in the most radical political shift in the country since military rule ended over thirty years ago. A former army officer with a history of racist, misogynistic, and homophobic views, Bolsonaro, whose term will commence January 1, has spoken in favor of torture, the escalation of military intervention in Rio, the imprisonment and banishment of political opponents, and the killing of suspected drug dealers. He has also spoken fondly of the country’s decades-long military dictatorship and proposed authorizing snipers to shoot people who carry weapons in the country’s poor neighborhoods, or favelas. Military escalation in Rio has already killed at least nine hundred people in the last six months, reports Democracy Now! Thousands of his supporters gathered in the public square in front of São Paulo’s Museum of Art to celebrate on Sunday evening, clashing with his opponents who chanted, “Not him.”

Gabriel Pérez-Barreiro, curator of the Thirty-Third São Paulo Bienal and chief curator of the New York– and Caracas-based Colección Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, told the Art Newspaper: “We have seen how the cultural infrastructure of Venezuela was decimated by a similar authoritarian, populist, and militaristic president. . . . In particular, Bolsonaro’s expressed views on women, gender orientation, sexual preference and race are very worrying, as is his apparently disregard for freedom of expression.”

Former Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez often complained about the state of cultural affairs and its elitism, and publicly purged many of the country’s artists, curators, collectors, and government institutions. “Culture has become elitist as a result of being managed by elites. . . . Princes, kings, heirs, families took over institutions, institutions that have cost the state millions and millions. They wanted to do whatever they wanted. They thought they were autonomous governments, principalities,” Chávez said in 2001.

Bernardo Mosqueira, curator of Rio’s experimental arts lab Solar dos Abacaxis (Pineapple House), said of Bolsonaro’s election: “It’s impossible to know what will happen—the only certainty is that it won’t be the same as before. But most people are apprehensive and attentive, and at the same time terrified and aggressive.”