‘It’s a Nightmare’: Cultural Figures in Brazil React to the Election of Far-Right Candidate Jair Bolsonaro

With a non-existent cultural agenda, Brazil's art scene is more concerned about the president-elect's virulent social policies.

Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: MAURO PIMENTEL/AFP/Getty Images.

The Brazilian art scene was left reeling following the election of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro on Sunday. The result has some cultural figures worried that the new president-elect, who has been called “Trump of the tropics,” could threaten the future viability of the country’s art market by curtailing essential rights, such as freedom of expression.

In the year leading up to the election, artists and cultural professionals were frequently targeted and harassed by right-wing groups. Free speech advocacy organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, warned that the president-elect “poses a serious threat to press freedom and democracy in Brazil.”

Others have pointed out that the most revealing aspect of the president-elect’s cultural agenda is that there isn’t one. Jochen Volz, director of the Pinacoteca de São Paulo, told artnet News, “Culture [is] not a topic in Jair Bolsonaro’s government program.” And artist Bruno Dunley pointed out that in Bolsonaro’s 81-page Plan of Government, “the word ‘culture’ appears only once.”

Dunley added that, even before the election, the arts were being villainized in Brazil. “In the last two years, several artists, curators, and institutions were criminalized and censured by the supporters of Jair Bolsonaro,” he said. “What is at stake is, at the very least, the preservation of our identity, our sovereignty and the right to production and access to art for all.”

Though it is unclear how the president-elect will affect the art scene, dealer Alexandre Gabriel of Fortes d’Aloia & Gabriel gallery told artnet News that the vast majority of artists and culture workers were supporters of the center-left candidate Fernando Haddad. Most artists in Brazil, he said, were concerned less about the art scene and more about Bolsonaro’s virulent stance on many social issues. “He is anti-gay, anti-black, anti-abortion, and is pro-guns and family values,” Gabriel said. “Artists [and culture workers] have traditionally stood up for progressive social issues.”

Fernanda Feitosa, a collector and founding director of the São Paulo-based art fair SP Arte, shares those concerns. “The campaign and election of Bolsonaro has created significant concerns in the art community. Especially in regards to freedom of speech and minority rights. The campaigns were extremely polarizing and very aggressive,” she said.

Bolsonaro supported the previous administration’s proposal to shut down the country’s culture ministry and fold it into the education ministry to save money. It is presumed he will move forward with the measure as president. Additionally, reports suggest he may block efforts to rebuild Rio de Janeiro’s Natural History Museum, which burned down in September.

In an email to artnet news, Fernanda Brenner, the director of the São Paulo arts non-profit Pîvo, summed up her response to Bolsonaro’s election in three words: “It’s a nightmare.”

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