We’re not even a month into 2021 and already news headlines around the world feature controversial artwork. From Hungary to Brazil, artists have been shaking things up. Here’s what has been going on.

THE ONE-METRE BLM STATUE OF LIBERTY IN HUNGARY 

Budapest’s Black Lives Matter artwork has caused some controversy, leading to uproar with the rightwing nationalist government.

With parliamentary elections looming, it comes as no surprise that Hungarian artists have been creating some controversial artwork that’s only going to upset Viktor Orbán’s nationalist government.

Last week was the unveiling of the latest piece of art to cause a howl of protest. Coming in at only one metre high, the multi-coloured 3D render of the Statue of Liberty kneeling with her fist held aloft and carrying the tabula ansata with an inscription that reads, ‘Black Lives Matter’. The statue, created by artist Péter Szalay, has won a recent tender for public art in Budapest’s ninth district. In total, there were seven pieces chosen to be displayed in different locations during a two week period next spring.

The statue dedicated to the Black Lives Matter by Péter Szalay movement
Image Source: The Guardian

However, this didn’t go down too well with the officials. Orbán’s chief of staff, Gergely Gulyás, told the Guardian last week that: “Black Lives Matter is basically a racist movement. The racist is not the person who opposes a BLM statue, but the person who erects one.” Several of the Prime Minister’s allies have made similar statements on the topic.

But Krisztina Baranyi, the ninth district mayor struck back at the right-wing disdain stating that, “The BLM goals of opposing racism and police brutality are just as relevant in Hungary as anywhere else,” making reference to the government’s prejudice against migrants and refugees. 

Baranyi goes on to say that, “This whole scandal is typical of the way pro-government media works in Hungary. Everyone is angry about this and nobody actually knows anything about it.” Baranyi gained control of the ninth district last year after the opposition defeated the right-wing party in a historic land-slide win in the municipal elections.

So why is the ruling Fidesz party so offended by the statue? Well, in the past they have come up against Hungary’s arts community. In 2017 György Fekete (who passed away last April) was appointed director of the Hungarian Academy of Arts (MMA), partially because of his belief that art should express national sentiment and emphasise aesthetic beauty.

Suzi Dada, a member of the opposition Two-Tailed Dog party stated that, “For Fidesz, culture politics is all about historical memory and memorials, relativising Hungary’s role in the second world war and painting us as victims.”

After the announcement of the sculpture, Péter Szalay received a threatening email from a well-known far-right person stating that he will be “punished” if the installation was to be displayed next spring.

Despite the backlash, Szalay has pointed out that the statue was not meant to be a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement: “It does not declare itself on the side of or against BLM. According to my artistic purpose, it is undecidedly swaying between the two readings.”

The 33-metre vulva sculpture in Brazil 

A large scale piece of land art in the form of a vulva was unveiled last week in Pernambuco, Brazil.

Titled ‘Diva’ by Juliana Notari, the sculpture was carved into a former sugar cane field, measuring 33 metres high by 16 metres wide and is carved 6 metres deep into the earth. It is covered by concrete and a red resin.

‘Diva’ by Juliana Notari
Image Source: Facebook

Juliana Notari wanted the sculpture to represent the female anatomy and a wound by way of a feminist comment.

In a Facebook post, the visual artist stated that the hillside sculpture was intended to, “[…] question the relationship between nature and culture in our phallocentric and anthropocentric western society”. She goes on to say that, “In ‘Diva’, I use art to dialogue with issues that refer to gender issues from a female perspective combined with a cosmopocentric and anthropocentric western society. Currently, these issues have become increasingly urgent. After all, it is by changing perspective of our relationship between humans and humans and nonhuman, that will allow us to live longer on that planet and in a less unequal and catastrophic society.”

To the horror of the far-right president of Brazil Jair Bolsonaro and his supporters, Notari received some backlash for her bold creation. Political advisor, theorist and former astrologer Olavo de Carvalho, shared a post on Twitter saying: “Why are they talking bad about the 33 meter pussy instead of facing it with a dick?” Others complained about the public money used to fund the work, which was commissioned for the Usina de Arte botanical gardens with the Museu de Arte Moderna Aloisio Magalhães. 

Another Bolsonaro supporter, who was misinformed of the location of the sculpture, wrote on Twitter: “IT IS SCARY HOW THE ARGENTINE CAPITAL HAS BECOME AFTER THEY LEGALISED FEMINISM IN THE COUNTRY! WE CANNOT LET THE SAME HAPPEN HERE! ABSURD!”

Since winning the general election in 2019, Bolsonaro has repeatedly expressed his disdain for the arts and has threatened to cut cultural funding budgets for artists who he believes get rich off public money.

Controversial image showing a group of black men involved in the production.
Image Source: Facebook

It wasn’t just the right-wingers who expressed their displeasure on the artwork. Criticism also came from the left, specifically over images that show a group of black men involved in the production. One Twitter user wrote: “A vulva sculpture that [Notari] describes as an act of artistic resistance and gender problematization, but which to be created used practically only the labour of black men. A satire of white feminism?”

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