What do works violated in Brasilia tell us about the nation?

The destruction left material damage and symbolic messages that help us understand the problems that Brazil still needs to face.

No último domingo, dia 08 de janeiro, manifestantes vândalos invadiram e destruiram as edificações da praça dos Três Poderes
Last Sunday, January 8, 2023, vandal demonstrators invaded and destroyed the buildings of Praça dos Três Poderes, in Brasília

Blows, stabs, piss and feces. Last Sunday, January 8th, we were all perplexed by the destruction that vandal demonstrators carried out when they invaded the buildings of the Three Powers square - Planalto Palace, National Congress and Federal Supreme Court -, in Brasilia. And I couldn't help noticing a special hatred directed towards works of art, as happened in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. The expertise carried out by the Chamber of Deputies estimates the damage caused to public property to be at least R$ 3 million – the amount includes glass tables, chairs and more than 400 broken computers. The value of works of art? Pass R$ 8 million! The curatorial director of the Presidential Palaces, Rogério Carvalho, said, in a note published by the Presidency of the Republic, that it will be possible to recover most of the works vandalized during the attacks, but it is important to understand what some of the main pieces mean for the history of the nation , because only then can we find possible futures. 

Bandeira do Brasil, 1995, Jorge Eduardo
Flag of Brazil, 1995, Jorge Eduardo

Flag of Brazil, 1995, Jorge Eduardo

The painting that reproduces the national flag hoisted in front of the Plateau, was found floating in the water that flooded the ground floor of the building after the fire hydrants installed there were opened. It is the biggest symbol of the country.

Designed by Raimundo Teixeira Mendes, Miguel Lemos, Manuel Pereira Reis and Décio Vilares, the flag is, of course, full of symbolism and is often revisited by artists from different generations. No wonder it became the theme for one of the modules of the collective exhibition Brazilian Stories, in 2022, at Masp. “The flag is a national symbol, it is not a symbol of one group or another group. The idea is not to erase the flag, but to make it a bigger symbol. Democracy is always an incomplete regime and our flag does not represent all of us. Therefore, a flag like Bruno Baptistelli's is a Brazilian flag. As well as that of Abdias Nascimento, who verticalizes our flag. I also really like the flag of Frederico Costa, who is one of the LGBTQIA+ population, or even that of Leandro Oliveira, who writes 'indigenous, black and poor people'. So, anyway, there are many flags”, declared curator Lilia Moritz Schwarcz in an exclusive interview with ARTEQUEACONTECE. 

The work of the artist from Rio de Janeiro trained in architecture, however, does not present deviations. It is a hyper-realistic representation of the official symbol of the nation stipulated by the legislation itself, in November 1889, when our country ceased to be a monarchy and became a republic. She was, however, kidnapped by a portion of the population and ended up being transformed, in recent years, into the icon of a single political party. It became the protagonist of a mechanism of ethical and aesthetic distortion. 

It is interesting to note that the work was done during the last year of Itamar Franco's government, at a time when the country was trying to recover its pride, and its colors, after the impeachment of Fernando Collor. 

Mulatas, 1962, Di Cavalcanti
Mulatas, 1962, Di Cavalcanti

Mulatas, 1962, Di Cavalcanti

One of the most important works ever produced by the Carioca painter, the painting by was stabbed in seven places and is worth, according to the government, around R$ 8 million, although its sale value could be five times higher at auction. It is important to point out that, although the canvas is being called in the press and on social networks The Mulattoes, the title was given by collectors and secondary market agents, since the artist did not usually baptize his works. 

But the nickname was not adopted for nothing. Di Cavalcanti is recognized in the artistic world as a “painter of mulattas” due to the great recurrence of this theme in his productions. He was also one of the main contributors to the creation of the so-called symbols of national identity idealized by Brazilian modernists. Today, however, ideas and concepts developed by the group undergo a critical review and the term “mulata” itself is contested due to its racist etymological origin.

The work and the modernist movement talk about identity and the origins of the nation, a subject that has gained strength in recent years – especially in 2022, when we celebrate the 200 years of independence and 100 years of the Modern Art Week. And it should grow as there are many exhibitions scheduled for 2023. 


Elizabeth Di Cavalcanti, the artist's daughter, told the newspaper O Globo that the canvas in question was probably made by order of the state-owned shipping company Lloyd Brasileiro to decorate one of its tourist ships. “After Lloyd ended, this work ended up at the headquarters of the Brazilian government”, said Elizabeth.


Galhos e Sombras, Frans Krajcberg
Branches and Shadows, Frans Krajcberg

Branches and Shadows, Frans Krajcberg

Frans Krajcberg was a Polish-born Brazilian painter, sculptor, engraver, photographer and visual artist. Krajcberg landed in Brazil in 1949 and soon fell in love with the Brazilian flora. And it wasn't a summer love affair, the artist dedicated the rest of his life to defending our forests. Little by little, he stopped representing nature in a figurative way and started exploring abstraction until he started using waste from Bahian mangrove trees and natural pigments to compose his canvases and sculptures. Over the years, he ended up transforming his work into a cry for help that warns us about natural riches devastated by human actions. 

It is significant to have, in the city that houses the Federal Government, a work by the artist-militant-ecologist. After all, according to MapBiomas, an initiative of the Climate Observatory carried out by a network of universities, NGOs and technology companies, the area deforested in the last 3 years reached 42,000 km², almost the area of the State of Rio de Janeiro. Destruction grows in all biomes (being 59% in the Amazon and 30% in the Cerrado) and only 27% of the deforested areas are subject to some inspection.

The denial of the environmental crisis is evident in the attacks on the Three Powers of the Brazilian Government: the branches that made up Krajcberg's work, valued at R$ 300,000, according to the Federal Government, were broken and thrown away.  

Vênus Apocalíptica, Marta Minujín
Apocalyptic Venus, Marta Minujín

Apocalyptic Venus, by Marta Minujín

With an exhibition scheduled for the second half of the year at Pinacoteca de São Paulo, Marta Minujín is one of the most relevant artists in Latin America. Irreverent and ironic, she is known for creating immersive installations that articulate color, sound and movement. But his career is also marked by political works, as is the case with a sequence of works and installations that challenge the public with works that seek to demolish “universal myths”.

in installation The Parthenon of Books, for example, shown in 1983 in Buenos Aires, the artist reproduced the architecture of the Parthenon – an ancient Greek building that represents the origin of democracy. But the structure of the columns was not filled with plaster, but with more than 20,000 books that had been banned during the Argentine military regime. The gesture was repeated in 2017, during Documenta in Kassel, but in this version it brought together publications censored by different radical governments around the world. 

The work chosen for Brasilia is part of a series in which the artist fragments figures from Greek mythology to suggest that the planet is divided and on the verge of dismembering itself. The message is given.


A Justiça, Alfredo Ceschiatti
Justice, Alfredo Ceschiatti

Justice, 1961, Alfredo Ceschiatti

The artist from Minas Gerais was one of the main collaborators of the architect Oscar Niemeyer and is the author of several works present in public buildings in Brasília. Its granite sculpture over three meters high depicts Themis, the Greek goddess of justice, law and order. She is blindfolded, signaling that justice should not be partial, and is seated solemnly with the sword of the law in her lap. 

Inaugurated more than 60 years ago in front of the Federal Supreme Court building, the piece was spray-painted with the phrase “perdeu, mané”. The words were spoken by Court Minister Luís Roberto Barroso, when asked by Bolsonaro supporters about the credibility of Brazilian electronic voting machines, when he was on a trip to New York, in the United States, in November last year.

Araguaia, 1977, Marianne Peretti
Araguaia, 1977, Marianne Peretti

Araguaia, 1977, Marianne Peretti

The stained glass window honoring the Araguaia River, which flows through the states of Goiás, Mato Grosso, Tocantins and Pará, was created especially for the decoration of the Salão Verde of the Chamber of Deputies, directed by Oscar Niemeyer in the 1970s. The French-Brazilian artist , who was the only woman on the architect's team, created the work in tempered glass and sandblasted, making reference to the movement and course of the river.  

The waters, both from the rivers and the sea, also harbor important memories for the many narratives of the Histories of Brazil – think of those who arrived here enslaved, full of memories and customs that built the country’s identity, even in the rivers that were violated” by the concrete of big cities and by pollution. The neglect with the preservation of rivers in different parts of Brazil has had a direct impact on the life of the riverside population. The high level of mercury in the waters of the Tapajós River, for example, has been lethal. 

Peretti also created the stained glass windows for the Cathedral of Brasília, with a style marked by the organic structure of natural forms, patches that resemble leaves, drops of water and sunrays. In the Salão Nobre do Congresso, she also left the Phasifae stained glass window, and the Alumbramento panel, in the Salão Branco.


Bailarina, Victor Brecheret
Victor Ballerina, Victor Brecheret

Ballerina, 1920, Victor Brecheret

The bronze sculpture, torn from its base and found hours later on the floor of the Chamber of Deputies, is currently valued at R$5 million, according to the federal government, and was classified as one of the most important of the 1920s, according to Sandra Brecheret, daughter of the artist and responsible for the donation to the collection. 

Brecheret was an Italian who lived most of his life here in Brazil, where he immersed himself in indigenous folk and religious art and contributed to the introduction of modernism into the national sculptural language. In a note from the Chamber of Deputies collection, Sandra says that the work is part of a print run of seven copies and reflects the period in which her father focused on Parisian themes and explored the delicacy of the female universe. The sculpture “the ballerina” was found but broken on its pedestal, but has since been restored. 

O Flautista, de Bruno Giorgi
The Pied Piper by Bruno Giorgi

The Pied Piper by Bruno Giorgi

The Italian's sculpture, valued at R$ 250,000, was on the 3rd floor of the Planalto, where the presidential office is located and was "completely destroyed", informed the government. Giorgi is the author of other well-known works installed in public palaces in Brasília, such as Meteoro, at Itamaraty, and Os Candangos, at Praça dos Três Poderes.

Son of Italian immigrants, Bruno Giorgi saw his country taken over by Italian fascism and ended up becoming a member of the resistance. He took part in the Spanish Civil War, but later moved to Paris, where he lived with Henry Moore, Marino Marini and Charles Despiau. In São Paulo, he approached Vitor Brecheret and Mário de Andrade, joining the modernist movement. What does the total destruction of the work of an artist who fought against fascism mean? 

Retrato de José Bonifácio, Oscar Pereira da Silva
Portrait of José Bonifácio, Oscar Pereira da Silva


Portrait of José Bonifácio, Oscar Pereira da Silva

One of the most notorious figures in Brazil's independence process, according to official history, now questioned, was José Bonifácio. It was not by chance, therefore, that the painter, decorator, draftsman made his portrait. The screen was erased including a mustache, similar to that of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, on Bonifácio's face.

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