Dutch Artist Enraged by Brazilian Protesters’ Giant Rubber Duck

Did the protest movement steal Florentijn Hofman's design?

Giant rubber ducks of the Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo (FIESP).Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.
Giant rubber ducks of the Federation of Industries of the State of Sao Paulo (FIESP).
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images.

In recent months, the streets of Sao Paulo have seen thousands of protesters calling for the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff, Brazil’s first female president. Seen floating among them is an inflatable, giant rubber duck, a figure that’s served as the movement’s mascot-of-sorts—and Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman isn’t too happy about it.

The decision to tether the demonstrators’ movement to an image of a rubber duck, distinguished by its x-shaped eyes and a slogan that reads “chega de pagar o pato” across its belly (it roughly translates to “come pay the piper”) was conceived by the Federation of the State of Sao Paulo (FIESP). In an e-mail to artnet News, Katya Manira Albiero, a representative of FIESP, said that the rubber duck campaign started in 2015 to “inform the Brazilian population about the tax burden and to avoid further increases.”

FIESP’s campaign may be rooted in humble intentions (FIESP represents 133 labor unions in the city), but Hofman, the artist behind the enormous, inflatable rubber ducks that have been floating along the world‘s shores since 2007, thinks the project is mere “propaganda.”

“The issue that I have is that they misuse the work which really looks similar to my work, and don’t bring the same story as I planned with my work since 2007,” Hofman told artnet News in a phone conversation.

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FIESP campaign.
Photo: Courtesy of FIESP.

In an interesting twist, Hofman confirmed to artnet News that the São Paulo factory that fabricated his rubber duck for its 2008 trip to Brazil is the very same company that manufactured the protesters’ version.

“Of course, I haven’t seen this one in person myself,” said Hofman, “so it’s hard to say, but it seems that they used our design. The work of the rubber duck is a non-political piece of work. It is connecting people all around the world through friendship.”

In a statement to the BBC, Denilson Sousa, the owner of this factory, insisted Hofman’s design had not been copied, saying, “I would not put our reputation at risk. We have experience in this kind of job and this is a very simple design.”

It’s probably difficult to prove plagiarism given the ubiquity of rubber ducks, but Hofman isn’t the first artist to lay claim to otherwise banal and everyday objects. Jeff Koons, for instance, is widely known for issuing cease and desist letters to artists creating knockoffs of his shiny balloon dogs.

Hofman told artnet News that he and his team do not plan on taking action against the FIESP.


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