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Censored “Queermuseu” Show in Brazil Reopens to Record-Breaking Crowds

“Queermuseu,” an exhibition of art focused on gender and diversity in Brazil that was shut down last September after its organizers caved to conservative backlash, reopened with record-breaking attendance this weekend_._ The revival of the show, which is now on view at the private School of Visual Arts of Parque Lage in Rio de Janeiro, comes after both an open letter, which was signed by Brazilian art workers last October and decried the country’s “rise of hate, intolerance and violence against freedom of expression in the arts and education,” and an online campaign that crowdfunded $250,000, far exceeding its goal of $5,000. In addition to helping produce the exhibition, the funds will go toward educational programs. 

Amid last year’s controversy, “Queermuseu”—which includes works by Lygia Clark and Adriana Varejão and was originally staged at the Santander Cultural Center in Porto Alegre—was going to travel to the Museum of Art Rio (MAR), a public institution, until mayor and Evangelical pastor Marcelo Crivella interfered, punning that the show would go to MAR “only if it’s at the bottom of the sea” (the word for “sea” is “mar” in Portuguese). The school’s director, Fabio Szwarcwald, called Crivella’s comments absurd. “We can’t allow someone like him to decide what we see or not,” Szwarcwald told Ivy Olesen of the Art Newspaper. Revived for a monthlong run, the show drew around eight thousand visitors over the weekend, with a wait time of an hour and a half.

Increasingly, Brazilian artists and institutions have been bullied by right-wing political and religious groups who have called for censorship, leading many to liken the atmosphere to the one during Brazil’s military dictatorship during the 1960s through the ’80s. Critics of “Queermuseu” singled out five of the 264 works on display: Fernando Baril’s Crossing Jesus Christ with the God Shiva, 1996, a painting of God with sixteen arms; Bia Leite’s Queer Child, 2013, drawings of children covered in words including “transvestite”; two works based on childhood photographs self-submitted by queer adults; and Interior Scene II, 1994, by Adriana Varejão, which includes a depiction of a man having sex with a goat.

According to the Rio Times, the exhibition is “the first curatorial platform with an exclusively queer approach to be realized in Brazil and the first example of such a large-scale exhibition in Latin America.”