Brazil’s Identity Politics Heat Up

Ordem e Progresso, part deux.

Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

When Banco Santander opened a daring exhibit of gender-bending Brazilian contemporary art last month, it hoped to spur gallery goers to "positive reflection." Instead, it got an insurrection at its doors and a hate storm on social media. Fearing for public safety and its brand, Santander shut down the exhibit last Saturday, a month ahead of schedule, with a chorus of mea culpas.

Perhaps it was to be expected. The exhibit, titled Queermuseu ("queer museum") was a collection of some 270 paintings, sculptures and installations dedicated to exploring the frontiers of sexuality and gender diversity. A few of those pieces, admittedly, were not for family viewing — provocation, after all, is what every contemporary artist worthy of the name strives for.

Yet the more telling aspect of this cultural kerfuffle is what it says about the deepening cleft between rival political claques in Brazil and their competing, and often confusing, bids for minds, hearts and ballots.