The exhibition Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil addresses the present transnational wave of authoritarianism by featuring a number of art practices that have responded to oppression in Brazil. Since the rise of a conservative political movement in the last few years that resulted in the election of a far-right president in 2018, threats and attacks against politicians, activists, intellectuals and artists have skyrocketed. Violence has been exacerbated against social groups traditionally repressed. And acts of censorship supported by the state have returned: a cultural war has been waged against groups and institutions that do not adhere to conservative social ideas. Under a supposedly democratic government, a dangerously nostalgic desire for the return of a military dictatorship has taken place among different segments of society, fueling political actions that have made direct reference to the period of 1964-84, the last authoritarian regime.
The exhibition Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil develops a brief diagnosis of these somber times; it also surveys historical conditions of authoritarianism in Brazil and shows how artists have thrived and created new imaginaries to endure oppression. The exhibition travels back and forth in time, linking different generations of artists and exploring connections between systems of power as old as colonialism and current neo-fascist discourses. Topics of censorship, hate speech, and systemic erasures are addressed by artworks that can be looked at through four intersecting topics: “Exposing Oppressions,” “Dismantling Silencing,” “Defiant Subjectivities,” and “Media Insertions and Agency.”
In “Exposing Oppressions” artworks either seek to disable or reveal national hegemonic narratives, such as Brazil’s myth of racial democracy or the militarization of everyday life. Both topics are examples of discourses that have been seminal to sustain present-day authoritarianisms. Jonathas de Andrade comments on a 1950s’ UNESCO study that celebrated Brazil’s racial miscegenation and targeted international audiences, while also disseminating racial stereotypes. Igor Vidor acknowledges the complexity of the globalized gun market that has driven police and non-police violence in Brazil’s favelas. In “Dismantling Silencing” and “Defiant Subjectivities” repressed or censored groups and discourses take central stage, directly speaking to and defying power. Links are established between generations of artists who have fought either censorship or silencing in Brazil. Sonia Andrade presents A Caça, a work that was censored in 1978 for linking the violence of the dictatorship to Christian indoctrination, a theme that was also explored by Anna Bella Geiger in O Pão Nosso de Cada Dia (1978). The exhibition includes works by Maria Thereza Alves, who lived in New York in the 1980s and, as an activist, denounced the ethnocide of native peoples during Brazil’s military dictatorship.
Artworks labeled “Media Insertions and Agency” acknowledge the ideological wars waged through communications systems. During the last dictatorship in the 1970s, Brazilian conceptual artists such as Cildo Meireles and Antonio Manuel created works known as media insertions to challenge state propaganda. Today, artists continue to use the most varied strategies to take agency within social media, transposing street protests to the virtual world. While the collaborative action project #CóleraAlegria creates posters, flags, and banners to be used during political demonstrations and shared as images on Instagram, artists such as Giselle Beiguelman and Aleta Valente deal with dangerous right-wing hate speeches that became popular on these networks.
As part of a global context, the exhibition Against, Again: Art under Attack in Brazil examines the return of political authoritarianism in Brazil, its well-known persistent strategies, and a transformed mode of cultural war that refashions public institutions to reflect conservative points of view and uses public money cuts against progressive artistic projects. In the face of adversity and silencing, artists featured in Against, Again: Art Under Attack in Brazil continue to believe in the emancipatory power of art and its ability to create alternative worlds.
Anya and Andrew Shiva Gallery
John Jay College of Criminal Justice
860 Eleventh Avenue, New York 10019
Gallery viewing hours are Monday through Friday from 10-6 PM