Mendes Wood, based in São Paulo, Brussels and New York, shows recent paintings by Antonio Obá that respond to the Afro-Brazilian artist's recent self-imposed exile in Europe and the US Photo: Vanessa Ruiz

By Anna Brady*, in The Art Newspaper

Mendes Wood, based in São Paulo, Brussels and New York, shows recent paintings by Antonio Obá that respond to the Afro-Brazilian artist's recent self-imposed exile in Europe and the US Photo: Vanessa Ruiz

The Brazilian galleries are the largest delegation of Latin American exhibitors from Art Basel in Miami Beach, accounting for 14 booths — and the responses to the recent and controversial election of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro can be felt around town this week. The former army captain, who takes office in January, has been dubbed the “Trump of the tropics,” and his controversial views and apparent lack of a cultural policy have caused alarm in Brazil's art sector.

Mendes Wood DM, based in São Paulo, Brussels and New York, showcases recent paintings by Antonio Obá that respond to the Afro-Brazilian artist's recent self-imposed exile in Europe and the US. Obá received hundreds of threatening messages after her performance in 2015, Acts of Transfiguration: The Disappearance of a Recipe for a Saint, in which he crushes a statuette of the Virgin Mary and pours it over her naked body. The performance was shared by far-right groups on social media over the past year. Gallery director Renato Silva says that Obá, in the paintings, is “trying to resurrect the body and mind that [the far right] stole from him.”

MANY LEFT INTELLECTUALS ARE USING THEIR AGENCY IN ART TO EXPRESS THEIR OPPOSITION TO THE POLITICAL SITUATION. BUT WHO KNOWS HOW LONGER WE CAN DO THIS?

– MATTHEW WOOD, FROM THE MENDES WOOD GALLERY

The artist is now being sued by the state for public moral indecency and damage to a religious object. “Given Bolsonaro’s appointment, we will likely have to get him out of the country,” says gallery co-founder Matthew Wood. Mendes Wood also exhibits works by Sônia Gomes, the first living Afro-Brazilian woman to have a solo exhibition in a major Brazilian museum (Still I Rise, São Paulo Art Museum/MASP, until March 10). Wood says: “Many leftist intellectuals are using their agency in art to express their opposition to the political situation. But who knows how much longer we can do this?”

Brazilian artist Marcius Galan, whose work is on display at Galeria Luisa Strina at the fair, says that while it is too early to know about Bolsonaro’s policies, some plans, such as the “end of the ministry of culture” and “the criminalization of activism” , are worrisome. Pointing to the closing of an exhibition dedicated to queer art at the Centro Cultural Santander in Porto Alegre in 2017 after protests, Galan says: “I think artists are the biggest risk to an authoritarian system of government, so today a cruel narrative is being constructed. to demoralize artists”.

Bolsonaro's divisive rise echoes an increasingly polarized politics across the world, from the election of US President Donald Trump to Brexit, the UK vote to leave the European Union. “The population was so divided – families were fighting, friendships were being destroyed,” says Thiago Gomide, co-director of Bergamin & Gomide, another São Paulo-based gallery that showcases the fair.

“Slightly fewer Brazilian galleries are exhibiting in Miami this year”, comments Ariella Grubert, production manager at Latitude – Platform of Brazilian Art Galleries Abroad. “In 2017, we supported 16 Brazilian galleries at Art Basel in Miami Beach, but this year we are supporting 11. I think it's because it's an election year, there's a lot of uncertainty,” says Grubert. “Some artists may leave Brazil because of Bolsonaro, but others are thinking 'this is my country, and I'm staying' – there's a feeling of resistance.”

*Posted on December 6th in The art newspaper

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