Last month, the Santander Cultural in Porto Alegre, Brazil, launched the country’s first major exhibition of queer art. But recently, nearly one month before it was supposed to wind down, the exhibit came to an abrupt close.
As Elisa Wouk Almino reports for Hyperallergic, Santander Cultural “unilaterally” opted to shutter Queermuseum: Queer Tactics Toward Non-Heteronormative Curating after the exhibit became the subject of intense online criticism and disruptive protests. Movimento Brasil Livre (or the Free Brazil Movement), a right-wing group best known for organizing mass demonstrations against impeached former president Dilma Rousseff, reportedly spearheaded the campaign to bring the exhibit down.
According to Shasta Darlington of the New York Times, protestors harassed museum patrons inside and outside the exhibition. A video from inside the gallery, which has been viewed 1.6 million times on Facebook, accused Santander of propagating pedophilia, bestiality, pornography and blasphemy.
Among the works that drew the ire of protestors were an image of the Virgin Mary cradling a monkey, sacramental wafers stamped with the words “vagina” and “tongue,” and portraits of children spray-painted with words like “transvestite” and “gay child.”
Bia Leite, the artist behind the portrait series, pushed back against protestors’ categorization of her work as obscene. “We, LGBT, were once children,” she told the UOL news site, according to Darlington. “I am totally opposed to pedophilia and the psychological abuse of children. The goal of this work is just the opposite.”
But Santander, which is owned by a bank of the same name, apologized for the exhibition’s contents in a statement, saying that Queermuseum “disrespected symbols, beliefs, and people, which is not in line with our view of the world,” according to Wouk Almino of Hyperallergic.
‘When art is not capable of being inclusive and generating positive reflection,” the statement added, “it loses its greatest purpose, which is to elevate the human condition.”
Prior to its unexpected closure, Queermuseum featured 263 works by 85 artists. Santander’s decision to shutter the exhibition prompted an outcry from many Brazilians, reports Dom Phillips of the Guardian. LGBTQ groups organized a demonstration, and more than 71,000 people have signed a petition calling for Queermuseum to be reinstated. Julio Almeida, the regional district attorney for children’s issues, told local reporters that he “saw the art and there isn’t any pedophilia,” according to Darlington of the Times.
Santander’s swift cancellation of the exhibit had Gaudêncio Fidelis, curator of Queermuseum, drawing comparisons to the days of Brazil’s military dictatorship, which implemented a brutal regime between 1964 and 1985. “It is not normal for an institution to give into pressure like this,” Fidelis told Darlington. “It’s never happened in Brazil, not even during the dictatorship.”
But this may not be the end of the road for Queermuseum. Juca Ferreira, the secretary of culture in the city of Belo Horizonte, has received a proposal to host the exhibit in a municipal museum.