Brazil Today

Fear Is Moving In

Even in those parts of Brazilian everyday-life, where things still seem to be in order, the repressive rhetoric of Jair Bolsonaro is taking hold. Report by Elisabeth Wellershaus from the São Paulo art scene.

The discomfort is mounting – for everyone

The next day I ride my rental bike through a pretty artist district to visit another exhibition. Vila Madalena seems to be another refuge, only slowly catching up with the new reality. Until a few years ago, the colorful little houses in the district constituted a focal point for alternative and creative people. Now, they also represent the wealthier São Paulo, shielded from the social ailings of the urban outskirts. There are more and more incidents where mobs of Bolsonaro supporters threaten critical off-theater, galleries or gay bars. But the real enemy seems to be the ultra-conservative precariat of the outskirts.

“Here, we live in an perfect bubble,” says a political scientist from the neighborhood. In his neighborhood, cuts in social services, educational programs or affirmative action initiatives will likely have a limited impact. Seemingly least, life between organic supermarkets and hipster cafés is surprisingly similar to my German environment. In conversations with artists, curators and LGBT activists, I nod my head in agreement to comments about the New Right, invasive observation practices in schools and alienation between the city center and the outskirts.. I try to understand what it feels like when your own environment is in acute danger. And wonder how long my homely safe haven, Germany, might be spared.

At the café of the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP) I reflect on these very topics. But Amanda Carneiro looks at me indignantly, mentioning something about “luxury problems”. She comes from Capão Redondo, a neighborhood on the outskirts known for violence and precarious living conditions. It is one of the places where gang violence keeps the population under control, where murder rates are on the rise while the number of high school graduates sinks. The area is mainly populated by Afro-Brazilians – and it is where Bolsonaro wants to “crack down”.

“Right now, I’m the flagship black person here at MASP,” she says. She’s the first in her family to graduate from university, and is one of a handful of young black women developing programs at major museums in the city. She tells of racist hate mail that the MASP has received in recent months, following an exhibition on Afro-Brazilian history. She also tells me that the real problems lie outside the museum walls. “Creative people are still in good hands in the big institutions,” she says. “We are moving in a very privileged world.” Then, she buttons up her beige suit and disappears through the sliding glass doors. In an hour, she will begin workshop starts with the students of a neighborhood similar to the one she grew up in. Perhaps she will spend the time until then sitting in the SESC Pompéia, drinking wine, discussing the Bauhaus or the imminent closure of the Ministry of Culture. Or she might sit with her family and talk about the problems in the favelas. One thing is certain however: in the near future, things will get worse for everyone, no matter where they are.

Elisabeth Wellershaus, born 1974, lives in Berlin. She is a journalist and works among other things as an editor at Contemporary And (C&). She is a member of the “10 nach 8” (ZEIT Online) editorial staff.

Translation from Spanish by Zarifa Mohamad Petersen