AGUA PRETA, Brazil – The gigantic sculpture of a vulva, established in a mountainous area in the Brazilian state of Pernambuco by artist Juliana Notari, is designed to serve as a protest against the “secular abuse” suffered by women and “opens (the) wounds” of a culture pummeled by the current government, the work of art’s creator said.
The controversial sculpture of bright red resin is 33 meters (108 feet) long and 11 m (36 feet) wide and was created starting with an excavation six meters (20 feet) deep on a small mountain in the Mata Sul ecosystem, near the border between the states of Pernambuco and Alagoas, in northeastern Brazil and within the Usina das Artes museum-park.
The work is on display in this open-air museum that covers 30 hectares (about 75 acres) where there are numerous ponds and much flora and fauna along with permanent exhibitions by other artists such as French-Spanish Joan Barrantes, Cuba’s Carlos Garaicoa, Uruguay’s Clemente Padin and Brazil’s Jose Rufino.
“The work opens wounds and speaks out in this period we’ve been living in for two years, in which some cultural and educational values have backslid, these being the most often attacked by the extreme right in Brazil” headed by President Jair Bolsonaro, Notari said in an interview with EFE.
The bright red and somewhat shiny sculpture, titled “Diva,” has ruffled some features and has been firmly rejected by society’s most conservative sectors, with which art is in a “culture war,” Notari said.
The artist attributed the “reactionary” attacks she has experienced to “followers of Bolsonaro and evangelicals with a certain fascism.”
“This work faces head-on those people with prejudice and retrograde values who are strengthening that social exploitation that we’re experiencing and this entire process of cultural freedom which is being repressed, from the cutting of funding to censure. Culture is going through one of its worst moments,” she said.
For Notari, Brazil “went through times of slavery and dictatorship after which it did not give reparations to the victims and did not close the wounds. Now, those wounds have become inflamed, with a war that goes beyond the cultural, and those other discussions must not be lost.”
“We’re loaded with that energy of oppression, especially in matters of femininity, with woman repressed for centuries by white men who have dominion over her body, from medicine to esthetics, with patriarchal bosses, and the proposal is that people have to shed that,” she said.
Notari said that the work “is more than a wounded vulva. If I were have done something more literal about a vagina, I would have made it with lips and clitoris, but in this case I wanted to interact with colonial wounds of oppression that were inserted in our civilization and in womankind.”
“It was the appropriation of the body by feudalism, capitalism, and the violent way that came about, with a ‘witchhunt’ for women who exercised authority and had knowledge, who were midwives and healers using herbs and who were powerful, but many ended up (burned) at the stake and that unleashed the current feminicide,” she said.
“Diva,” she said, “is in this context of Latin America an open wound, like that of (Uruguayan writer Eduardo) Galeano. In this regard, it’s interesting to discuss it because this place is emblematic in the history of Latin America and colonialization.”
Since the work appeared on the social networks it has received an avalanche of criticism, a situation to which Notari is accustomed because of other “performance” art she has created.
“Those criticisms come loaded with a lot of prejudice, hate and other matters like genitalization, because the work strengthens a binary issue, but I don’t want to impose anything, because contemporary art is just that, letting yourself be affected by the work. Some children have seen the work as a leaf and others as a flower,” she remarked.
The giant vulva in Aguas Pretas, a town located 130 kilometers (81 miles) from Recife, the regional capital, is part of the “Doctora Diva” project, which for the past two decades has been touring Brazil and Europe with other works and video performances by Notari.
In Europe, the project was in Germany, France, Italy and The Netherlands, featuring a piece of art depicting a bleeding vagina, albeit using cow blood, which was put on display at assorted artistic spaces along with works by European artists who embraced the initiative of their Brazilian colleague.
One of Notari’s most iconic artistic performances is “Mimoso,” a video in which she appears tied up and being pulled around by a buffalo, named Mimoso, who was going to be castrated on the beach of the river island of Marajo in the Amazon state of Para, and later the artist decided to eat the animal’s testicles.
In the opinion of its creator, the work “is also a wound of the environment, since Mother Earth – Gaia – is alive, even with the pandemic and we’re attacking, polluting her. The earth, which generates life, bears fruit, and that relationship is very close to woman, but it doesn’t exclude transsexuals; it’s not only binary.”