In Brazil, no more taxpayer-funded X-rated children's art shows?
Revulsion against excesses of public exhibitions of sexuality alone did not cause 55% of Brazil's people to vote for a new direction for their nation, but it was a contributing factor. Brazil's governing left seemed to get exclusive blame for these shows while they were challenged by local religious leaders and authorities, whose efforts were met with limited success.
In the span of a few months in 2017, the nation where a popular, flagrantly gay-identified singer once had a hit whose title translated to "Sin doesn't exist below the equator" saw:
- A performance called "La Bête" (whose French translation can mean "the stupid" or "the beast"), whose creator, a then 44-year-old dancer and choreographer named Wagner Schwartz, began by entering, fully nude, onstage at an internationally respected museum along the nation's upper Atlantic coast, accompanied by four fully clothed girls who appeared to be elementary school age.
- Another performance of the same play where Mr. Schwartz appeared at the Museum of Modern Art in the nation's largest city, São Paulo (again, completely naked), supine and motionless as a then 4-year-old girl (whose mother was in attendance) was brought onstage and guided by another woman to gingerly touch the man's extremities.
- Separately, in the nation's southernmost state capital, Porto Alegre (metro population estimate: 4,293,000), an exhibit called "Queermuseu" ("Queer Museum"), which included a wall-mounted video exhibit whose name translated to "Come/Cry" and featured the close-up of a man having his face ejaculated upon. (I will warn you that the video can be found in this article, along with a link to the city's main newspaper, Zero Hora, which, in an article on the exhibit, includes a still shot of the video loop.) A painting at the same exhibit displayed what appeared to be religious figures of all genders (including those not classified as "male" or "female") engaged in an orgy showing what used to be called "full frontal penetration." Schools from throughout Porto Alegre were invited to bring their children to attend this "art show," which carried the name of a major international bank. It was neither a minor event nor an obscure venue.
- As outrage erupted over the nation at both these and other similar, smaller exhibits, Brazilian artists responded by complaining about censorship by conservatives, even going so far as to make a protest video.
Both "La Bête" and "Queermuseu" were financed by the Rouanet Law, which offers tax incentives for companies that donate money to sponsor a variety of cultural events. It also means that the Brazilian taxpayers make a contribution, desired or not.
That's why it's so satisfying to read of new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's quick efforts to make changes. After just ten days in office, he has eliminated the nation's ministry of culture as a standalone operation, merging it with two other ministries. He is also planning on taking a close look at the Rouanet Law, saying it "wastes resources."
His team will face headwinds. The individual who will manage the new combined ministry does not have an arts background, and previously, the ministry had been dissolved yet was quickly reinstated by Mr. Bolsonaro's immediate predecessor. Then there will be also resistance from the nation's arts community, admittedly a talented and often accomplished group. As Smithsonian magazine reports:
"It's very sad," Brazilian art dealer Pedro Mendes tells Henri Neuendorf of artnet News. "But he is doing exactly everything he claimed he would."
It is not yet clear how federally funded cultural institutions will be affected by the changes to Brazil's culture ministry, but members of the artistic community are worried about the country's new direction. As Mendes, the art dealer, tells artnet, "It's a very dark time in Brazil."
One wonders who in Brazil's "art-and-croissants crowd" cared about those whose definition of "dark days" included knowing that scores of pre-teen children were exposed to video of a sexual act limited scant decades ago to the musty confines of "adult movie" theaters, or seeing nursery school-aged girls touching the toes of a naked quadragenarian man.
I must add a disclaimer: as a high school senior early this decade, my son tried out for an award from the National Endowment for the Arts in vocal music, and in spite of keen competition, he won an "honorable mention" with a cash prize. The amount wasn't much, but everything that could be applied toward his eventual six-figure-cost undergraduate degree from a respected private university was a blessing. I'm not averse to organizations with government ties providing educational assistance of this sort.
Yet when taxpayer funds are involved in so-called "art" that can be a corrupting, innocence-destroying influence on children, I enthusiastically draw a line. More so did many Brazilians, who, in spite of their country's libertine reputation, dearly love their children and do not want their homeland to be a haven of child sexual exploitation, prostitution, and "sex tourism."
Mr. Bolsonaro (who as many know already survived an assassination attempt last September) and his colleagues will need our prayers. I don't know how the ending will read for his administration and his nation, but on this front, it is a hopeful new chapter.
Kurt Wayne is founder of Pornografia Destrói, online ministries fighting pornography, prostitution, trafficking, sexual abuse, and the hyper-sexualized culture in the nations of Angola, Brazil, and Portugal.