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Brazil's 'queer museum' reopens in Rio after forced closure

Carola Solé

Agence France-Presse

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil  /  Sun, August 19, 2018  /  05:05 am
Brazil's 'queer museum' reopens in Rio after forced closure

People visit of the 'Queermuseu' exhibition at Parque Lage park, home to the Visual Arts School, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on August 16, 2018. The exhibition opened in Rio after being cancelled in Porto Alegre due to the pressure of conservative groups. (AFP/Mauro Pimentel)

Brazil's "queer museum," forced to close last year after conservatives attacked it for allegedly promoting pedophilia, blasphemy and bestiality, is reopening in the shadow of Rio de Janeiro's iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. 

The Queermuseu, which features 200 works by 82 Brazilian artists, originally opened last year in the southern city of Porto Alegre but was forced to close by critics who accused it of attacking Christianity.

The enforced closure sent shockwaves through the artistic community and triggered debate about freedom of expression and a return of censorship, three decades after the end of the military dictatorship that ran the Latin American country from 1964-85.

A crowdfunding campaign raised more than a million reais ($275,000) allowing it to reopen for a month, with free admission, at the School for Visual Arts in Rio de Janeiro's Parque Lage -- a wooded parkland at the foot of the mountain topped by the renowned statue of Christ.

The series of fundraising events included a concert by the legendary musician Caetano Veloso. The curators picked the venue in the park after the city's Evangelical mayor, Marcelo Crivella, banned the use of Rio's Arts Museum for the show.

"It is a very important moment for Brazilian democracy, a convincing demonstration that the most progressive sectors of society will not accept censorship," said curator Gaudencio Fidelis.

"We haven't seen an act of censorship of this size and severity since the dictatorship," he said.

In addition artwork, the exhibition features talks on sexual diversity and LGBT rights as well as musical shows by "queer" performers.

The exhibition is almost identical to the one forced to close in Porto Alegre, featuring the same provocative works that scandalized Brazilian conservatives.

They include a portrayal of Jesus as a monkey in the arms of the Virgin Mary, works illustrating sexual practices in the style of traditional Japanese erotic prints and paintings of clothed kids entitled "Gay Children".

The images, including one of a multi-armed Jesus called "Crossing Jesus Christ Goddess Shiva", infuriated the right-wing Free Brazil Movement, which lobbied for the show to be shuttered.

The revived exhibition, which opens to the public on Saturday, only admits visitors aged 14 years and over, and carries a warning at the entrance that it contains images of nudity.

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- Security precautions -
"We hope for an enormous number of visitors, but not because of all the controversy. People will see that it was a false premise, a fabricated polemic. Society will be able to see the true nature of the exhibition," said Fidelis.

The organizers say they are not afraid of new demonstrations by right-wing groups, but just in case, they have employed 20 security guards and installed surveillance cameras.

School of Visual Arts director Fabio Szwarcwald said that so far he has only received a few dozen emails opposing the opening of the exhibition, unlike his colleagues at the Arts Museum, who received hundreds of protests, including death threats.

"We are not worried about possible attacks on the show," he said. "It's been very different to what happened at the Arts Museum." 

The Free Brazil Movement, known in Brazil as the MBL and which spearheaded the boycott in Porto Alegre, has said it will remain quiet, since this time the exhibition is privately funded and not using public money to "sexualize children."

"They'll be praying for the MBL to do something because if it hadn't been all the attention we drew to it, no one would have gone to see this garbage," said Renan Santos, one of the founders of the movement, which came to prominence in street marches calling for the impeachment of former leftist president Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

"The whole world can go see it naked, if they want," he said.