Shades of Censorship

Brazilian Artist’s Shocking Work
Criticized as “Apology to Crime”

Brazilian artist Gil Vicente is in the hot seat in his country, just as a collection of his work is being readied for the Bienal that starts in Sao Paulo Tuesday. His charcoal drawing series “Inimigos” (“Enemies”) portrays him killing, in a very graphic, al-Qaeda style, Brazil’s President Lula, his predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, Pope Benedict XVI, even England’s Queen Elizabeth II and other public figures.
The Sao Paulo branch of Brazil’s bar association, known as OAB, for example, issued a statement condemning Vicente’s work for being “an apology to crime,” in free translation from the Portuguese original, that may be liable to penalties prescribed by the Penal Code, and explicitly requesting for it not be shown at the Bienal.
The work has already been provoking negative reactions around the country for a few years now, except from those portrayed, who haven’t said anything either way about it. So far, though, very few came out to defend Vicente’s right to express himself without being compared to a criminal.
In fact, much of the criticism is centered in the old maxim that freedom of expression is great and all that, as long as it doesn’t shock anyone. To claim that a group of elaborated drawings to be displayed within the context of a respected art institution is the equivalent of incitation to violence is a gross and dangerous precedent.
It verges into the authoritarian and paternalistic view that art, to reach the general public, has to be codified first as acceptable by some committee of keepers of good taste, no doubt, because after all, such public can’t or won’t be willing to make up their own mind about it.
We’re almost sure, though, that cooler minds will prevail and Vicente’s series will be judged solely on its artistic merits. It’d be quite disturbing if some sectors of the Brazilian society, even those with a perfect record defending the rule of law such as OAB, would suddenly be entrusted as keepers of supposedly acceptable standards of good taste, with the authority to decide whether a work of self-expression is fit for public exposure.

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