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Conservative Movement in Brazil Challenges Art Shows


In this Sept. 27, 2017 photo, transgender actress Renata Carvalho plays the role of Jesus in the play "The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven" in Sao Paulo, Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Brazil is famous for its beaches, bikinis, and parties. But an increasing conservative movement is challenging the idea of Brazil as a country that has relaxed ideas about everything.

Recently, conservatives have strongly criticized several modern art shows and a play in which Jesus is presented as a man dressed as a woman.

The latest cultural clashes could help shape next year’s election.

Conservative groups have protested against two art exhibits. One, at the Sao Paulo’s Museum of Modern Art, is called “La Bete.” Visitors to the show, including a child, were invited to touch a nude man.

Critics accused “La Bete” of encouraging sexual interest toward children, or pedophilia. Some protestors waved a Brazilian flag and shouted “No! No! Not our children.” And the conservative Brazil Free Movement argued on its Facebook page that “left-wing artists” had gone too far.

The other disputed art exhibit is in the southern city of Porto Alegre. It was from the Queermuseu but shown by Santander Bank’s cultural center. The show explores different types of sexuality. Some parts of the show are explicit.

The Santander cultural center shut the show early. But there was talk that it would be re-opened in Rio de Janeiro.

However, the mayor of Rio de Janeiro said in a Facebook video that his city did not want the show. He said it assisted pedophilia.

Sao Paolo’s mayor also made a video saying both disputed art exhibits are bad.

In the end, the Santander Cultural Center closed the exhibit. But it said in a statement that refusing to have uncomfortable discussions is the same as hiding from society.

Then the state prosecutor’s office asked that the exhibit be reopened. He compared the cancellation to Nazi Germany’s ban on “degenerate art.”

There is also a fight over the play in which Jesus is portrayed as a transgender woman who tells Biblical stories of accepting others.

“The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven” has been performed more than 60 times during a tour of Brazil. Conservatives have called it offensive to Christians and asked the courts to ban its performances. One petition compared the play to the events in ancient Rome in which Christians were eaten by wild animals for entertainment.

One judge ordered the performance to stop, calling it “disrespectful,” ″aggressive” and “in bad taste.”

But another court ruled the play could continue.

Omar Encarnacion is a professor of political studies at Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. He studies gay and transgender rights movements.

Encarnacion says that since becoming independent, Brazil has never had an official anti-gay law. Many people, including the gay community, believe it to be a very tolerant nation, he said.

Still, he adds, as with so many social issues in Brazil, there is some confusion. Sao Paulo hosts the largest gay pride parade in the world, but Brazil also has some of Latin America’s highest rates of violence against gay and transgender people.

Renata Carvalho is the actress in the play “The Gospel According to Jesus.” She says Brazilians like to hide ugly things.

″This just sheds light on what people think,” she said. “I think it’s excellent that the masks are falling.”

FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2014 file photo, retired Pentecostal Bishop Marcelo Crivella campaigns for the governorship of Rio de Janeiro state in Brazil's Copacabana. Amid reports that a play with a transgender Jesus might go to Rio de Janeiro's Museum
FILE - In this Sept. 29, 2014 file photo, retired Pentecostal Bishop Marcelo Crivella campaigns for the governorship of Rio de Janeiro state in Brazil's Copacabana. Amid reports that a play with a transgender Jesus might go to Rio de Janeiro's Museum

Liberal activists have struggled to make Brazil a more open place for gays and women. They had some success during the left-leaning Workers’ Party governments that led the country between 2003 and 2016.

But some residents think that most people in the country are more conservative than many believe. And the conservative movement in Brazil has been becoming more important.

One of the reasons is the increasing number of religious evangelicals. People who are evangelical usually follow the Bible closely and support social reform efforts based on its teachings. About 20 percent of the nation is now evangelical, up from 5 percent a few decades ago. They have been inspired by the large number of corruption cases in the government. Many Brazilians believe the country needs stronger moral leadership. Although Brazil is still the most heavily Catholic nation in the world, evangelicals turn out to vote in large numbers.

A recent poll found that a far-right congressman named Jair Bolsonaro is running second among possible presidential candidates. Bolsonaro once said that if your son is gay, that means you didn’t hit him enough when he was a child.

In recent weeks, Bolsonaro has given his opinion on the disputes about the art shows and the play. Speaking of the “La Bete” exhibit, Bolsonaro said those who put on the show were just awful people.

I'm Susan Shand.

Susan Shand adapted this story for Learning English based on an Associated Press story by Sarah DiLorenzo. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

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Words in This Story

controversialadj. relating to or causing much discussion, disagreement, or argumen

Gospeln. Any one of the first four books of the Christian Bible.

Evangelicaladj. of or relating to a Christian sect or group that stresses the authority of the Bible,

scandaln. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong

pedophilia - n. sexual feelings or activities that involve children

explicit - adj. showing or referring very openly to nudity, violence, or sexual activity

degenerate - adj. having low moral standards : not honest, proper, or good

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