In Conversation with Jochen Volz

Brazil: “People Are Very Worried”

Right-wing nationalist Jair Bolsonaro has been president of Brazil since the beginning of 2019. What does his election mean for the arts and social cohesion? Jochen Volz, German-born director of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo, talks about the mood in the country.

How do you see the mood among artists on the ground?

The atmosphere is tense, although this is not necessarily related to the future of art but rather to issues that affect the way we all live together. What lies ahead for social relations? One of the first measures that Bolsonaro took was to relax gun laws. The restructuring of the ministries is also very controversial—amalgamating the ministries for the Environment and Agriculture potentially has a major impact on environmental policy. What will happen with climate protection? How will the rainforest be safeguarded in years to come? What does the future hold for the country’s more than three hundred indigenous cultures? For years, many artists have been dealing with Brazil’s indigenous peoples, in search of new models for coexisting and acting responsibly toward nature. What will happen with education? How will the religious fanatic views of some members of the government affect the school and university curricula? People are very worried.

Amidst all the things that Bolsonaro wants to fight against, is there anything that he is for? Is there an ideal, a cultural principle that guides him?

Actually, there isn’t. It has to be said, it’s astonishing that almost all the ministerial positions went to people who have absolutely no professional qualifications. Essayist Olavo de Carvalho is regarded as a kind of ideological advisor whispering in Bolsonaro’s ear: he is spreading the conspiracy theory postulating an imminent communist revolution across the globe. But I can’t make out any set of cultural principles. Politically too, Bolsonaro seems very erratic. He is constantly pressing ahead with this or that proposal, which is then countermanded by some minister or another, but then the minister is deauthorized again, and in the end something completely different comes out of it. It looks like total incompetence, but it may also be a strategy, similar to that of Donald Trump: shooting in all directions, pushing the envelope of what can be said, making a big song and dance about nothing, while other things get pushed through unnoticed.

Bárbara Wagner & Benjamin de Burca are representing Brazil at this year’s Venice Biennale. What do you expect from them?

I worked together with them both at the São Paulo Biennale in 2016, and I think they are an amazing artist duo. In the past, they have done very interesting work on Brazil’s music culture and the new religiosity. I’m sure that their Venice offering will expose current social conditions in the country.

Sebastian Frenzel is deputy editor-in-chief of Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben.

Translated from German by Simon Cowper.