Here Are the Artworks Destroyed by Pro-Bolsonaro Rioters in the Storming of Brazil’s Oscar Niemeyer-Designed Capital Buildings

Magareth Menezes, the country's culture minister, is heading to Brasilia today to take stock of the damage.

Workers with a vandalized painting by Emiliano di Cavalcanti at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia on January 9, 2023. The work was damaged after supporters of Brazil's far-right ex-president Jair Bolsonaro invaded the Congress, presidential palace and Supreme Court. Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images.

Art was caught in the crossfire yesterday as supporters of Brazil’s former far-right president Jair Bolsonaro ransacked Congress, the Supreme Court, and a presidential palace in Brasília a week after the inauguration of left-wing president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, also known as “Lula”. Reports suggest rioters smashed windows and glass cabinets and vandalized a number of important rooms. 

As Mulatas, a painting by the celebrated Brazilian modernist Emiliano di Cavalcanti that hangs in the Planalto Palace, was punctured multiple times, according to a report by the Brazilian publication O Globo

There are also reports that a sculpture by Bruno Jorge, O Flautista, has been completely destroyed, while another by the Polish-Brazilian artist Frans Krajcberg was damaged. Also recorded as being damaged are a bust of statesman Ruy Barbosa, an installation of stained glass by the French-Brazilian artist Marianne Peretti, and a well-known statue that sits outside the Supreme Court. 

A watch donated by the French Court to Dom João VI (1767–1826), the King of Portugal and Brazil, has also apparently been destroyed. It was one of only two such timepieces known to exist.

Supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro clash with security forces as they break into the Planalto Palace and raid the Supreme Court in Brasilia, Brazil, 08 January 2023. Photo by Joedson Alves/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images.

The federal buildings ransacked were UNESCO World Heritage Sites, designed by the leading mid-century Modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer and the urban planner Lucio Costa. Former president Juscelino Kubitscheck’s desk, an object of historic importance, has reportedly been destroyed following its use as a barricade. 

Just a week ago, Globo News reported that the president’s residence Palácio da Alvorada, also by Niemeyer, was in need of substantial repairs following its occupation by Bolsonaro. Reported damage to the building included torn carpets, broken windows and floorboards, and leaks. Several artworks have gone missing, while a tapestry by Di Cavalcanti needs restoration after having been exposed to the sun.

Planalto Presidential Palace security members inspect offices destroyed by supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro after an invasion in Brasilia on January 9, 2023. Photo by CARL DE SOUZA/AFP via Getty Images.

According to O Globo, Brazil’s ministry of culture Margareth Menezes is traveling to Brasília today to meet with specialists from the National Historical and Artistic Heritage Institute (IPHAN) to assess the extent of the damage. 

In a Tweet, Menezes also claimed that UNESCO has offered to contribute to the restoration effort. “A painting by Di Cavalcanti destroyed with stab wounds reveals the ignorance and violence of these abominable acts,” she also wrote. “Brasília is Brazil’s material and immaterial historical heritage and we will work together to rebuild everything that was violated.” 

Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won the presidential election in October and was inaugurated a week ago, claims that the ex-leader actively encouraged the violent demonstrators. “There is no precedent for what they did and these people need to be punished,” he said. 

In a Tweet, Bolsonaro encouraged peaceful demonstrations but condemned invading public buildings. 

Authorities have made some 1,200 arrests following the protests, according to the New York Times.


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