A 33-metre reinforced concrete vagina has sparked a Bolsonarian backlash in Brazil, with supporters of the country’s far-right president clashing with leftwing art admirers over the installation.
The handmade sculpture, entitled Diva, was unveiled by visual artist Juliana Notari on Saturday at a rural art park on the grounds of a former sugar mill in Pernambuco, one of Brazil’s most culturally vibrant states.
In a Facebook post, Notari said the scarlet hillside vulva was intended to “question the relationship between nature and culture in our phallocentric and anthropocentric western society” and provoke debate over the “problematisation of gender”.
“Nowadays these issues have become increasingly urgent,” the artist added in what appeared partly to be a reference to the increasingly intolerant climate in Jair Bolsonaro’s Brazil.
That comment was immediately borne out by the angry and often obscene reactions to Notari’s art, as thousands of critics – many seemingly Bolsonaro supporters – flooded the artist’s Facebook page with their ire. “Who do you lefties think you’re fooling? Apart from useful idiots on the left, of course,” one of the more restrained detractors wrote.
Bolsonaro’s US-based political guru, the professional polemicist Olavo de Carvalho, weighed in with a customarily foul-mouthed tweet.
Many responded more positively to Notari’s resin-covered sculpture, which took 11 months to build. “There’s a lot to think about in this work,” tweeted the celebrated trans cartoonist Laerte Coutinho.
Another fan wrote: “I loved it! An intimate part of us exposed with such beauty. We need more such works that elevate feminism and its nuances.”
Kleber Mendonça Filho, a film director from Pernambuco, praised Notari for responding to such a conservative moment in Brazilian history with a gigantic vagina. “The reactions to your work are a mirror [of society], a success,” he tweeted.
Since taking office in 2019, Bolsonaro has repeatedly maligned culture, painting artists – many of whom oppose his government – as decadent spongers who milk public funds to peddle communist garbage. A succession of renowned artists died last year, many from Covid-19, and Bolsonaro responded with silence.