arts

Vulva-esque sculpture in Brazil causes controversy

Published 4th January 2021
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Credit: Juliana Notari
Vulva-esque sculpture in Brazil causes controversy
Written by Jack Guy, CNN
Contributors Ana Rosado, CNN
A huge concrete sculpture that looks like a human vulva has caused a stir in Brazil.
The 33-meter long handmade piece is the work of visual artist Juliana Notari, who installed it o a hillside at the Usina de Arte, a rural art park in Pernambuco state, northeastern Brazil.
Notari posted about the work, titled "Diva," on Facebook on December 30, detailing how more than 20 men worked on the handmade sculpture, which measures 16 meters wide and 6 meters deep.
In the post said the work intended to "question the relationship between nature and culture in our phallocentric and anthropocentric western society" and make people question the "problematization of gender."
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The artwork sits on a hillside at the Usina de Arte art park. Credit: Juliana Notari
Before long it became obvious that she had succeeded as comments flooded in criticizing the work on Facebook.
"The sex organ wasn't created to be admired, let alone be called art," wrote one Facebook user. "It's tasteless and unnecessary and there's no meaning. You did this because you knew there would be criticism and that's what you wanted, publicity."
Others contained religious references or outright misogyny, and the post had more than 25,000 comments by Monday.
"Is it not enough to see so many women showing their bums, using short shorts or mini skirts, now there's a vagina on an open field," read another. "This, to me, can never be called art."
Olavo de Carvalho, often cited as an ideological influence on Brazil's right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, addressed the artwork on Twitter with an obscene comment referencing the male reproductive organ.
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A post about the artwork has attracted thousands of Facebook comments. Credit: Juliana Notari
However others praised the work, including Kleber Mendonça Filho, a film director.
"Well done Juliana Notari, getting men to create a 30 meter vagina in Pernambuco, during Bolsonaro's presidency," he tweeted. "The reaction to the art piece mirrors its success."
One of Brazil's best known cartoonists Laerte Coutinho, a trans woman, also weighed in, tweeting "there's a lot to think about in this work."
"Diva" is the latest in a series of works in which Notari addresses the idea of wounds.
"It's one of the biggest wounds I've created," she told CNN. "This wound is, however, infinitely smaller when compared to the traumas of slavery, unprotected employment, ecocide, and violent traumas that happened in this Usina, as in other private colonial properties."
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"Diva" is the work of visual artist Juliana Notari, pictured here. Credit: Juliana Notari
Notari told CNN she had been surprised by the response. "Even though I know it's an impactful art piece, I never thought people would feel hate towards it or that the response would take massive proportions on social media," she said.
Bolsonaro is known for his far-right tirades and macho attitude towards women. He has also taken aim at artists, and in December 2019 one of his top officials for culture warned people that listening to rock music could lead to drugs, sex, abortions and Satanism.
Artists haven't remained silent in the face of these attacks, and Notari is among those who criticize Bolsonaro.
"'Diva' is a 'possibility' because it cuts through Brazil's structural patriarchy, which is continuously reinforced by Jair Bolsonaro's far right, hateful discourse," she told CNN.