Literatura Exposta (Literature Exposed) (exhibition)

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Artist: És Uma Maluca

Year: 2019

Date of Action: January 2019

Region: South America

Location: Rio de Janeiro

Subject: Nudity, Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Installation, Mixed Media, Performance Art

Confronting Bodies: Ruan Lira, Secretary of Culture of the State of Rio de Janeiro; Wilson Witzel, Governor of Rio de Janeiro; President Jair Bolsonaro; Casa Franca-Brasil; Álvaro Figueiredo (curator of Literatura Exposta)

Description of Artwork: Literatura Exposta (Literature Exposed), was a multi-media exhibition curated by Álvaro Figueiredo for the Casa Franca-Brasil that brought together ten artists and visual arts collectives. The controversy was sparked by an installation by the collective És Uma Maluca, which featured swarms of plastic cockroaches around a manhole – a reference to a torture tactic employed sometimes by the military dictatorship that controlled Brazil from 1964-1985. Their installation, entitled “The Voice of the Sewer is the Voice of God”, was the central piece of the exhibition and included 6000 plastic cockroaches arranged around a manhole cover from which issued audio recordings of speeches of the country’s new president, Jair Bolsonaro. The title of the piece comes from the popular (but unofficial) Catholic dictum “The voice of the people is the voice of God”. ( The work is based on a short story by Rodrigo Santos, which described the struggles of a victim of the Brazilian dictatorship who had been tortured with cockroaches.

The Incident: The exhibition was censored twice: first via modification, and then shut down altogether.

First, after Casa Franca-Brasil received complaints, the recording of President Bolsnaro's speeches was replaced by a voice reading out a cake recipe, referencing a tactic used by newspapers during the dictatorship, where they printed recipes when stories were censored.

Then, on Sunday, January 13, the government of the state of Rio de Janeiro shut down the exhibtion at the Casa Franca-Brasil for what they state was a breach of contract. The final day of the exhibition, conceived by the art collective Es Uma Maluca, was to feature a performance by the collective, including two dancers interacting with the exhibition’s centerpiece (cockroaches and sewer drain) that highlights torture methods employed by the military dictatorship.

In a statement, Ruan Lira, Rio’s Secretary of Culture, said he had learned from an email exchange that a performance “containing nudity between two women as well as cockroaches” was due to take place. He and Rio governor Wilson Witzel sent a note sent to the press: “The Casa França-Brasil is run by the state and there was an exhibition authorized by the Secretary of Culture and in that exhibition there was no human performance, much less nudity,” stated Governor Witzel. (

“Nudity itself would not be problematic,” Lira said, but a dialogue with the culture secretariat and children’s court were needed first, as well as a stipulation and a separate legal clause in the contract. “I’m not against freedom of expression and even less in favour of censorship,” Lira added. (

In a message published in his Instagram account, the show's curator Álvaro Figueiredo, stated that Casa França-Brasil had already been warned about staging Sunday's performance. On Sunday, Figueiredo announced on Facebook that Literatura Exposta had been shut down on orders from Wilson Witzel, the far-right governor of Rio state. Witzel is a close ally of President Jair Bolsonaro, who took office on 1 January and whose administration runs the France-Brazil House cultural centre that hosted the exhibition.

Results of Incident: On Monday, January 14, És Uma Maluca announced they would stage the banned performance on the street in front of the France-Brazil House at 6pm. A crowd of several hundred gathered. Five armed police stood guard to ensure that no nudity took place. The crowd chanted leftist and anti-fascist slogans as they waited for the performance to begin. “Art should never be censored,” said Sebastiana Cesario, 68-year-old chemist, as she waited in the hot sun. “It is an unnecessary provocation.” (