It is not yet an official policy because censorship is not openly accepted by the current authorities, but de facto vetoes on artistic expressions are increasing due to moralistic pressures in Brazil.
The offensive affects the artistic world in general, not just the shows or exhibitions that have been directly cancelled in recent months.
“This affects all our work, because it dissuades us from fear of reactions and the sponsors will now think ten thousand times before supporting a work of art,” said Nadia Bambirra, an actress, theatre director and acting coach.
This exacerbates the problems facing the cultural sector, at a time that is already fraught with difficulties due to declining public funds and an economic crisis causing a decrease in spectators and audience as well as in private financial support, she told IPS.
The wave of repression became dramatic since September, when the Santander Cultural Centre canceled the exhibition “QueerMuseu, Cartographies of Difference in Brazilian Art”, a month before it was to end, after accusations of promoting pedophilia and zoophilia and of blasphemy.
The exhibition, made up of 264 paintings, drawings, sculptures and other works by 85 Brazilian artists, was inaugurated on August 15 and was scheduled to close on October 8 in Porto Alegre, capital of the southern state of Rio Grande do Sul.
A campaign on the social networks was driven mainly by the Free Brazil Movement (MBL), which takes radical positions against social rights, such as housing, even though they are enshrined in the constitution, while supporting extreme right candidates in politics.
The Santander Bank decided to cancel the show at its cultural centre because “it was considered offensive by some people and groups” who thought it was “disrespectful toward symbols and beliefs,” according to the bank’s “message to clients” to explain the measure.
Protests by artists, intellectuals and sexual diversity movements accused the Spanish bank of exercising censorship, by yielding to accusations against some works that have already been well-known for decades.
But the protests failed to prevent the exhibition from also being canceled in Rio de Janeiro, where it was set to open in October.
Mayor Marcelo Crivella, bishop of an evangelical Christian church, banned its exhibition at the Museum of Art, a municipal institution that partners with a private foundation, in response to the accusations aimed at the QueerMuseu in Porto Alegre.
“No more censorship!” protested filmmakers and actors at the Festival do Rio, an international film festival held October 5-15. The mobilisation of artistic and cultural media failed to reverse the decision or, so far, to attain a new venue for the exhibition
The moralistic outbreak was fuelled in the southern metropolis of São Paulo, where the Museum of Modern Art inaugurated its 35th Panorama of Brazilian Art with a performance by a naked artist.
A video showing a girl touching the hand and leg of a man who was lying down triggered a flood of protests and allegations of pornography and pedophilia.
The Public Prosecutor’s Office is investigating whether there was a violation of Brazil’s Statute on Children and Adolescents by those who disseminated the video, exposing the girl and her mother who took her to the presentation allegedly inappropriate for children.
Actions of intolerance against freedom of artistic expression have proliferated in Brazil this year.
Dancer Maikon Kempinski was arrested for a few hours on July 15 by the police in São Paulo for presenting a performance in which he removed his clothes. Two months later, a play was banned by the judicial authorities in Jundiaí, 60 kilometers from São Paulo, because Jesus Christ was played by a transsexual actress.
The theatre group was able to perform in nearby cities in the following days, drawing a large audience and intense applause, which shows that censorship is from isolated groups. But in late October the play was again banned in Salvador, capital of the northeastern state of Bahía.
The Rio de Janeiro city government, imbued with the evangelical bias of its mayor, continues to obstruct cultural activities, taking care not to fall into widespread, official bans.
“My boyfriend had his painting censored in the ‘short circuit’ visual arts exhibit on sexual diversity,” which could not be held on the scheduled dates in October, said Bruna Belém, a dancer and body arts researcher who is earning a Master’s Degree in Contemporary Art Studies.
The city government secretariat of culture prevented the exhibition in a municipal cultural centre.
Besides, “eight works disappeared and were only returned two weeks later,” Belém told IPS, referring to suspicions of sabotage of the “October for Diversity” programme, which also included plays that were suspended.
“The manipulative capacity” of the government, in this case the municipal government, “has been turned against freedom of expression,” lamented the dancer and activist. “The first ones attacked were the artists who work with their body, performances, photographic displays, theatre, dance,” she said.
To illustrate, she mentioned her dance instructor, who presented a performance that includes nudity in an event after the closure in the Rio de Janeiro Museum of Art. The audience was limited to their peers, excluding the outside spectators they had hoped to reach.
These subterfuges show that the current conservative authorities, especially in the municipalities of Brazil’s largest cities, São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, do not dare to directly ban artistic expressions after three decades of re-democratisation of the country, affirming freedom of expression.
“There is resistance,” Belém said.
In light of the “moral patrol”, the tendency is to limit the arts to musical shows and innocuous works of art, abandoning uncomfortable avant-garde pieces of art, Bambirra fears. “But in the midst of that neo-Nazi wave, something surprising, transformative, can emerge in the search for new spaces,” she said hopefully to IPS.
With the current government, headed by Michel Temer as president since May 2016, “the conservative wave was consolidated and extended to all institutions, especially the National Congress and sectors of the Judicial branch,” according to Eric Nepomuceno, a writer and former Secretary of Exchange and Special Projects of the Ministry of Culture.
Temer belongs to the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement party, but is considered a conservative in religious, social and gender issues. The 77-year-old politician is surviving corruption scandals with just three percent popular support, according to the latest polls.
His government depends on the parliamentary support of right-wing parties and specific alliances, such as that of ruralists (landowners) and evangelists who demand conservative measures and laws, such as flexibilisation of labour and environmental regulations, as well as the fight against slave-like labour.
To the episodes of censorship and extremist movements such as the MBL is added “Temer’s government’s contempt for culture, a kind of revenge on the fact that almost all artists and intellectuals reject him,” Nepomuceno told IPS.
“So, what lies ahead is devastating, rather than worrying,” because “the world is facing a surge of conservatism and Latin America is not immune to that phenomenon, as seen in Argentina and Brazil, which are confirming the return of winds that seemed to have faded in the past,” he concluded.