Assassination as art? That is the question many Brazilians have been forced to ask themselves after the country’s most important alternative art show displayed nine drawings depicting the assassination of world leaders.
Each charcoal drawing shows the artist, Gil Vicente of Recife, Brazil, holding a weapon moments before assassinating a world leader. The series, called Inimigos (Enemies), is meant to highlight alleged crimes for which the leaders have been directly or indirectly responsible by imagining that they are being made to pay the price.
An artist’s fantasies of assassinating Queen Elizabeth II, former US president George W. Bush and Pope Benedict XVI have triggered controversy in Brazil after a major art show opening.
Nine charcoal sketch self-portraits of the Brazilian artist in imaginary scenes murdering world leaders have become the focus of fierce debate, with the national lawyers’ association demanding they be taken down from the walls of the Sao Paulo Art Biennial, which started on Saturday.
The series was started in 2005 with a sketch of the former US President George W Bush, portrayed kneeling with his hands fastened behind his back and the figure of Vicente looming over him, thrusting a pistol towards his head.
Over a year, the artist completed the collection with images showing him preparing to shoot other leaders, including the Pope, Britain’s Queen, former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon, former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
The Queen faces the onlooker with her hands clasped before her, apparently unaware that the artist is behind her pointing a gun at her back, while Pope Benedict XVI confronts the assassin with his hands raised.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is also depicted being executed as he sits tied to a chair, but by the artist running a big knife across his throat.
Vicente said the grisly method of assassinating Lula was nothing personal. Originally, he was going to sketch different weapons being used in the murders, but after Bush and Lula he settled on pistols for the rest of the series.
The artist said he came up with the provocative idea because of his “disappointment” with leaders whom he saw as inflicting wrongs on the world with impunity.
“Because they kill so many other people, it would be a favor to kill them, understand? Why don’t people in power and in the elite die?” he asked.
The Brazilian bar association has demanded that the images be removed from the exhibition, alleging that they encourage violent crime.
“Even though a work of art freely expresses the creativity of its maker, without limits, there have to limits to exhibiting it publicly,” a spokesman said.
But the artist has responded furiously to suggestions that his work should be censored. “They claim it justifies crime. Stealing public money is not a crime? The reports on TV aren’t trying to justify crimes? Only my work is justification of crime?” indignant Vicente said in the interview with AFP.
But the organisers of the Biennial defended Vicente’s right to exhibit his work. They said in a statement: “A fundamental quality of our institution is curatorial independence and freedom of expression. The works exhibited to do not reflect the opinion of the curators nor of the Biennial Foundation.”
The works, hanging in a prominent position in the Biennial exhibition in a hall in Sao Paulo’s main Ibirapuera Park, are valued collectively at $260,000.