The Museu de Arte de São Paulo, one of Brazil’s most important museums, is facing allegations of censorship after reports that its curators decided not to display works related to a land reform movement. Amid the controversy, Sandra Benites, whose hiring as adjunct curator in 2019 made headlines because she was the first-ever Indigenous person to serve as a curator in Brazilian museum, has departed her post.
The allegations are centered around the forthcoming show “Histórias Brasileiras,” which focuses on Brazilian history. Set to open in July, the show is part of the museum’s acclaimed “Histórias” series. Other exhibitions from the series, like “Histórias Afro-Atlânticas,” a version of which is now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., have received significant attention abroad for their groundbreaking focuses on gender, sexuality, race, class, and colonialism.
Benites, who is Guarani Nhandewa, was set to organize an exhibition about Indigenous histories. When she was hired in 2019, she said in a statement that she wanted to “tell these histories from an indigenous perspective about ‘ywy rupa’, which is the Guarani notion of territoriality.”
“MASP regrets Sandra’s departure and respects the curator’s decision,” a MASP spokesperson said in a statement to ARTnews.
“Histórias Brasileiras” was to feature materials linked to the Landless Workers Movement (MST), a Marxist movement that seeks the redistribution of land as a means to account for various forms of inequality within Brazil. MASP planned to showcase images taken by Brazilian photographers João Zinclar, André Vilaron, and Edgar Kanaykõ, all of whom have ties to the MST movement.
These works were to figure in a section titled “Retomadas” (“Resumptions”) that has been removed from the show entirely. MASP said that the section was organized by Benites and Clarissa Diniz, a guest curator.
The artists were reportedly informed of the museum’s choice not to include the documents and photographs via an email from Benites and Diniz. According to Fohla de São Paulo, Benites and Diniz said that those materials would be excluded because they were not requested in time to meet the museum’s stipulated loan deadline. The artists claim that the museum’s staff never communicated about a specific date for the loan requests.
In a lengthy statement posted to its website, MASP denied having censored any of the artists in “Histórias Brasilieras.”
“MASP’s refusal to include the 6 photographs is in no way linked to the content of the works, nor does it represent any censorship of the MST – something inadmissible in a democratic institution such as MASP,” the museum wrote.
Fohla de São Paulo reported on Tuesday that Benites had resigned amid the MST controversy.
“I accepted [MASP’s] invitation to be able to add to what has been built,” she told the publication. “It doesn’t make sense for me to continue without being able to expand the debate.”
Her resignation comes on the heels of another censorship controversy currently playing out at MASP.
Earlier this month, the museum canceled an event marking the launch of the newly released book Sem Medo do Futuro by Brazilian politician and activist Guilherme Castro Boulos, a member of the the National Coordination of Homeless Workers’ Movement (NCHWM). The museum’s staff said it decided not to hold the event on the grounds that its policies as a nonprofit prohibit “any manifestations of a political nature,” according to a report by Carta Capital.
The book’s publisher, Editora Contracorrente, said it was notified via email that the museum’s director decided to cancel the launch, just four days before the planned event. The company had begun publicizing the launch after a contract with the museum had already been signed. The group issued a statement calling the move “a serious attack on freedom of expression.”