The Murder of Art in Brazil

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. Photo: Sergio Lima, AFP

“Love, I feel your absence, and absence is the death of hope.” These lines, from a popular Brazilian composer, are emblematic of how I miss the country that has been stolen from me. Brazil has been invaded by a horde of marauders who, in addition to gaining power, want to kill the Brazilian soul.

I could say that I miss the cheap gasoline. I could even say that I miss a government that believes in and appreciates science. I could deplore ethnic, religious, and ideological intolerance. I could argue that agribusiness does not necessarily need to destroy our natural reserves. I could be sickened by the encouragement to carry arms.

However, one thing in this country makes me particularly sad: the persecution and murder of Brazilian art.

Enemy of the Government

The government’s more moderate proselytes would admit Brazil knows problems. Still, they would beat their breasts and proclaim that what’s most important is the fact that corruption has been banished from the bosom of our motherland.

I hate to disappoint them, but corruption is a stubborn weed, and it continues to thrive in our beloved homeland, which continues hurting, in certain respects even more so than in the former governments they condemn.

But the issue here is different: why has Brazilian culture been declared the enemy of the Bolsonaro government?

Historian Marco Antonio Villa said that the current president is Brazil’s least literate, most ignorant ever because he has never read a book or watched a single movie or play. Truth be told, the president claims to have read A Verdade Sufocada (The Stifled Truth) by Colonel Carlos Brilhante Ustra, the Brazilian military dictatorship’s most famous and brutal torturer.

But while the cult of ignorance may have been the basis, it’s not the most important element in the government’s crusade against culture. Something more putrid underlies this institutionalized obscurantism.

Power Project

Combatting national culture is part of a power project that aims to tame, control, and make the masses conform to specific standards of behavior, as in a military parade. All forms of artistic expression are antagonistic to this goal.

Art can only breathe where there is creative freedom, diversity, and a multitude of languages and patterns — that’s why it is the enemy of authoritarian governments. What happens in supposedly democratic regimes, such as Brazil? How do you weaken anti-establishment movements without appearing to impose, while putting on a show of benevolence?

It’s easy: call on the name of God. In other words, the tool for legitimizing this clipping of critical-thinking artistic freedom is Pentecostal and neo-Pentecostal religious moralism.

This has played out as follows: fundamentalist pastors have indoctrinated their faithful flock to idolize Bolsonaro the Messiah (his middle name is Messias) as a man of God, a reader of the Bible, a guardian of the family and morals. A solid and despicable pact was forged with the purpose of assuming power. And it worked; the evangelical vote was decisive in the 2018 election.

Obstructing Cultural Initiatives

Brazilian culture and art are obstacles to the perpetuation of this predatory agreement. Therefore, samba, carnival, Brazilian Popular Music (MPB), national cinema, theater, visual arts, and everything else which generates critical thinking is seen as a threat and treated as satanic.

Messias (uncultured, but not stupid) and his childish followers set up a centralized government, with military personnel and evangelicals in strategic positions. In the case of the crumbling Ministry of Culture, the directors’ mission was clear: if it couldn’t be destroyed, then cultural initiatives of any kind should be obstructed as much as possible.

The strongest defense of Brazil’s Amazon rainforest has come from the Indigenous people, who have been defending their lands against greedy invaders for centuries. Photo: AFP

By incapacitating cultural institutions, boycotting resources, censoring shows, and insulting artists, the government signals to the evangelical electorate that it is protecting the Christian family from satanic influences. The deal between the government and evangelical leaders to perpetuate both in command is being fulfilled. That indeed is a satanic influence.

They want to destroy our art. They want to subvert our character and mutilate our identity. They want to censor our Ginga, detune our samba, sabotage our show. They want to kill our joy. They are planning a scowling, fascist, angry, intolerant, and tarnished country.

Even the president has a sarcastic, raucous laugh. They can’t smile with the purity of an elderly Black man. They don’t know (or don’t want to know) how to be Brazilian. They want to exterminate our Black and indigenous genome.


But Brazilian art is much stronger than this crude, ignorant, backward, judgmental fascist government. They are not going to steal our soul. They are not going to murder our culture. That is my fervent hope.

As I speak of hope, I am reminded of an old Brazilian movie called Bar Esperança (The Hope Bar). The setting is, in fact, a typical Rio de Janeiro bar, a sanctuary for writers, artists, and other nightlife clowns.

The film takes place at the end of the military dictatorship while the bar represents a microcosm of stifled Brazilian culture: a free territory, a space to escape the repression. The scenes exude music, joy, accents, literature, theater, cinema, irreverence, and creativity — in other words, the purest Brazilian art.

The film brought me the pleasant image of Brazil as a bar full of hope. Yes, hope that we can have Brazilian art back in the place it deserves to be when this disastrous government ends. A slight departure from the song: I miss a Brazilian Brazil, but my hope hasn’t as yet been dashed.

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