How can a dictatorship change the cultural physiognomy of a country? Brazil already experienced this poison with the 1964 coup, when the military regime began to dictate norms for all sectors of society, and the visual arts are no exception to the rule.
One of the torpedoes is fired at the International Biennial of São Paulo, in its 1967/1968 edition, when minutes before the opening, the Federal Police withdraws Cybele Varela's work, deeming it "offensive" to the authorities. The young artist Quissak Júnior is threatened with arrest for his work, five modular oils on canvas, representing the Brazilian flag. In opposition to this prohibition, the United States, with the largest room at the exhibition, Ambiente USA: 1957/1967, displayed the American flag in Three Flags, by Jasper Johns, one of the São Paulo Biennial Awards, alongside César , Cruz Dias and Pistoletto.
In the next edition, with the enactment of AI5 (Institutional Act no. 5), the situation worsens. The critic Mário Pedrosa is threatened with arrest, as is Mário Schenberg. Many intellectuals leave the country and others are exiled.
In Rio, the police invade the MAM and close the exhibition that brought together the works of Brazilians who would participate in the 6th Bienal de Paris. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, José de Magalhães Pinto, in an article published by Folha de S. Paulo, said that the works contained a message against the regime and “intended to make the government incompatible with public opinion”. Faced with repression, the participation of Brazilians is restricted to the areas of architecture, urbanism and music.
In 1969, the Bienal de São Paulo suffered its biggest setback, the “international boycott”, which began with Brazilian artists and transcends borders, reaching the United States, France, Mexico, Sweden and the Netherlands, where many artists joined the movement. . In Europe, the action was led by the French critic Pierre Restany, a friend of Mário Pedrosa, who at the meeting at the Museum of Modern Art in Paris declared: “Cultural protest takes a sudden expansion here, and this is just the beginning”. The boycott petition had 321 signatures and was joined by Pablo Picasso. Pontus Hultem, Swede, one of the most active critics at the time, responsible for formulating the concept of Beaubourg, in Paris, was one of the militants of the movement. The manifesto arrived in New York, with an article in the New York Times, criticizing Brazilian censorship in the arts. In Italy, Corriere della Sera published: “The Bienal is in danger because of the political situation in Brazil”. Eduard de
Wilde, director of the Stedelijk Museum, in Amsterdam, was one of the first to join the boycott and the Netherlands, the first country to withdraw and the last to return to Ibirapuera.
Outside the walls of the Bienal de São Paulo, artists were also active. In 1967, Nelson Leirner and Flávio Motta, with humor and veiled criticism, made large fabric flags, printed in serigraphy, with images of cordel literature, football and carnival, and sold them at the intersection of Av. Brazil with Rua Augusta, in São Paulo. Both are mistaken for street vendors and the flags confiscated. In the same year, Antonio Henrique Amaral released the woodcut album O meu e o Seu, with a strong satire on the military. From 1968 onwards, with the publication of the AI-5, artists used metaphors alluding to the regime. Cláudio Tozzi, in addition to the panel Guevara Vivo ou Morto, works on the series Parafusos, a reference to the harsh reality experienced by Brazilians at the time. In 1971, Tomoshige Kusuno, a guest at the II Antwerp Biennale, is prohibited from photographing his environmental work on the lawn next to the Bienal pavilion, considered by the military to be “occupation of a national security area, due to its proximity to the barracks”.
Despite pressure tagging, performers were sometimes able to evade the censors. At the 1971 National Salon, the most important of the time, Antonio Henrique Amaral, receives the Viagem ao Exterior award, with the Brasiliana series, large-format canvases, with strong criticism of the regime, with bananas as a theme. Regina Vater also receives the same award with the series Nós, from 1972.
Those who lived through this period certainly do not want to see history repeat itself, much less plastic artists who, throughout history, have been a constant target of any regime of exception.