Imprimir Republish


The art of opposition

Despite censorship, there was a strong presence of a leftist culture and of opposition during the dictatorship

Paulo Autran and Tereza Raquel in the play Liberdade, liberdade (Freedom, Freedom): target of censorship

Public domain image Paulo Autran and Tereza Raquel in the play Liberdade, liberdade (Freedom, Freedom): target of censorshipPublic domain image

In a classic article, originally written in France in 1970 and translated into Portuguese eight years later, literary critic Roberto Schwarz said: “in spite of the dictatorship of the right, there was a relative hegemony of the left in Brazil” between 1964 and 1969. From the 1970s until the end of the dictatorship in 1985, when the regime repressed, censored and closed itself off even further before beginning its gradual opening, the general tone of national artistic production continued to express this apparent paradox. Most studies on cultural production during the dictatorship years focus on movements and artists who, whether in more alternative productions or within the so-called market logic, more or less explicitly opposed the regime. This has become a fertile topic for research in recent decades. “My generation became interested in politics through contact with cultural works that speak of the dictatorship,” says Marcelo Ridenti, 55, a professor in the Sociology Department at the Institute of Philosophy and Human Sciences of the University of Campinas (IFCH-Unicamp).

Dictatorship special issue

Ridenti is among the authors who have done the most research on the relationship between cultural production and politics during the military regime. His works cover the period from the 1950s, the period before the coup, in which the Brazilian Communist Party (PCB) was an important actor in promoting the arts (activist art), go on to the effervescence of the 1960s and the much harsher repression of the 1970s, and continue through the mid-1980s, with the return to democracy in Brazil. One of the expressions used by Ridenti to describe the relationship between politics and the cultural scene during the period from the end of World War II until the first few years after the coup, which was imbued with artists’ relationships between the PCB and the Popular Culture Centers (CPC) of the National Student Union (UNE), is the feeling of “revolutionary Brazilianness” (see Pesquisa FAPESP, Issue No. 206). In fact, this is the title of one of his books, released in 2010, in which he explored a certain romanticism in communist artists, such as writer Jorge Amado, filmmaker Nelson Pereira dos Santos or playwright Dias Gomes, who produced works fed by a feeling of forging a new country.

Perhaps Ridenti’s most ambitious study is the book Em busca do povo brasileiro – Artistas da revolução, do CPC à era da TV (In search of the Brazilian people, Artists of the revolution, from the CPC to the TV era) published by Unesp, originally released in 2000, and revised, enlarged and re-released this year, on the 50th anniversary of the coup. As its title suggests, the work does not focus on the careers of a group of artists or on a cultural genre (cinema, theater, music, literature or TV), but rather on the overall state of this industry. The author considered a full rewrite of the book, but ended up only doing some topical revisions, updating the bibliographical references and adding an afterword. The updates served to map out a good part of the academic production that had researched some aspect of cultural production during the military dictatorship. “There were many innovations in terms of studies after the 2000s,” says Ridenti.

Film Zuzu Angel, 2006: cinematographic production about the military regime

Public domain image / globo filmsFilm Zuzu Angel, 2006: cinematographic production about the military regimePublic domain image / globo films

One of the most important contributions are the works by historian Marcos Napolitano, a professor at the USP Faculty of Philosophy, Languages and Literature, and Human Sciences (FFLCH-USP), who has closely examined the history of popular Brazilian music, and to a lesser degree, audiovisual production during the authoritarian regime. In 2011, he defended his professorial thesis, in which he studied the dilemmas and contradictions of the cultural policies originating from or developed in opposition to the dictatorship between 1964 and 1968 by dividing them into four different groups: communists, Catholics, liberal and counterculture movements (such as tropicalism). They were all against the dictatorship, but each segment had its own particular characteristics and different views of what art should be. “The very idea of opposition fed the cultural production of the period, which was quite abundant,” says Napolitano. “However, while the production of the Catholic left expressed a grass-roots, amateur and community-oriented culture, that of the counterculture was, for example, sectarian, experimental and transgressive.” A significant number of more specific works, which basically focused on the production of a single artistic sector during the dictatorship, were produced by a new generation in the field of humanities. Miliandre Garcia, 38, today a history professor at Londrina State University (UEL), analyzed theater censorship in the documents stored at the National Archives in Brasília. The material includes information on some 22,000 plays and 702 cases of censorship against theatrical productions that were prohibited from being presented at some point. This study resulted in her doctoral dissertation, defended in 2008 at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ), “Ou vocês mudam ou acabam”: teatro e censura na ditadura militar (1964-1985). (“Either you change or you’re finished: theater and censorship during the military dictatorship” (1964-1985)). “The plays that were analyzed by the censors ranged from amateur productions to productions by professional groups, and the prohibitions could be based on ideological questions or simply because the censor thought that the production went against morality and good manners,” says Miliandre.

Depending on the period (after the December 1968 AI-5, censorship increased), on “instructions from higher up” and at times, even on the censor’s mood on that particular day, the same play could be prohibited on one occasion and allowed on another. And it was not only plays by authors considered to be opponents that were vetoed, such as Liberdade, liberdade (Freedom, freedom), by Millôr Fernandes and Flávio Rangel, or those considered to be “pornographic,” as was the case for Toda nudez será castigada (All nudity will be punished), by Nelson Rodrigues. A text like Golias em circuito fechado (Goliath in closed-circuit), written by Marcos César, Luiz Carlos Miele and Ronaldo Bôscoli and performed by the comedian Ronald Golias, who was far from a critic of the regime, could be (and was) prohibited at certain times by the censors, who associated the alleged “moral degradation” of the production with “plans for subversion.”

Actors on strike against censorship in 1968, in the “March of the 100,000” in Guanabara

Gonçalves / CPDoc JBActors on strike against censorship in 1968, in the “March of the 100,000” in GuanabaraGonçalves / CPDoc JB

Historian Flamarion Maués, who is today engaged in a post-doc with a fellowship from FAPESP at the USP School of Communications and Arts (ECA), examines the relationship between the publishing world and the dictatorship. In his master’s and doctoral works, both defended at the History Department at FFLCH in the last decade, he studied the role of “political” or of opposition publishers, respectively, in Brazil and in Portugal. In Brazil, he analyzed publishers like Brasiliense and Marco Zero, which acted during a period of political opening in the country. His Master’s thesis was recently published under the title Livros contra a ditadura: editoras de oposição no Brasil, 1974-1984 (Books against the dictatorship: opposition publishers in Brazil, 1974-1984) published by Brasil, 2013. Now as a post-doc, he continues to focus on this topic and is doing a comparative study of the activity by political publishers in Brazil and in Portugal during the periods of regime transition. The Brazilian context is the same as it was in his previous studies: the political opening that began during the last phase of the military governments. In Portugal, the moment of passage chosen is the Carnation Revolution (1974-1975), a democratic, anticolonial and socialist movement, led by mid-level officials, which put an end to decades of dictatorship by Salazar and his successors. “I identified 140 political publishers in Portugal, a very high number for such a small country,” says Maués. In Brazil, he had only found 45 publishers with a similar profile.

A group of 74 films released between 1979 and 2009 that portrayed the dictatorship was the subject of a Master’s thesis presented in 2011 by sociologist Caroline Gomes Leme at IFCH-Unicamp. In addition to commenting on all these films, this work, which last year became the book Ditadura em imagem e som: trinta anos de produções cinematográficas sobre o regime militar brasileiro (The Dictatorship in sight and sound: thirty years of cinematographic production on the Brazilian military regime), published by Unesp. In 2012, it was selected as the best Master’s thesis by the National Social Sciences Graduate Studies and Research Association (Anpocs) and included a detailed analysis of five productions: Nunca fomos tão felizes (We have never been so happy), by Murilo Salles, 1984; Corpo em delito (Body in crime), by Nuno Cesar Abreu, 1990; Ação entre amigos (Action between friends), by Beto Brant, 1998; A terceira morte de Joaquim Bolívar (The third death of Joaquim Bolívar), by Flávio Cândido, 2000; and Zuzu Angel (Zuzu Angel), by Sérgio Rezende, 2006. “Beginning with the opening, notably after the Amnesty Act of 1979, cinema was able to speak more directly about the military dictatorship, which was waning away,” says Leme. “The process is still a little ‘cautious’ though. For example, movies avoid openly accusing the military of torture, but they explicitly place their stories in the period of the military regime and expose the oppression within this specific historical context.”

During her research, Leme avoided working with the cinematographic production of the Cinema Novo by Glauber Rocha or Nelson Pereira do Santos, as well as the production by the Cinema Marginal by Rogério Sganzerla or Julio Bressane. The movies made by these two movements were filmed in the 1960s and 1970s, and the sociologist considers them to have been produced under the dictatorship when the impacts of the coup and censorship were felt more directly, and at times, turned to allegories or other esthetic resources to refer to the authoritarian regime. In comparison, the movies produced in the 1980s began to enjoy a certain amount of freedom to refer to the coup and the military governments. In her doctoral work, she is studying the São Paulo films of the 1960s and 1970s.

Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, work by Cildo Meireles - 1970: protest in the visual arts

Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, 1970 © Artist’s collection and Serralves Foundation collection – Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto in Cildo Meireles (Cosac Naify, 2014)Insertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, work by Cildo Meireles – 1970: protest in the visual artsInsertions into Ideological Circuits: Coca-Cola Project, 1970 © Artist’s collection and Serralves Foundation collection – Museum of Contemporary Art, Porto in Cildo Meireles (Cosac Naify, 2014)

In 2013, working in the field of the visual arts, historian Artur Freitas, a professor at the State University of Paraná (Unespar), released the book Arte de guerrilha: vanguarda e conceitualismo no Brasil (The art of guerilla war: the avant-garde and conceptualism in Brazil), published by Edusp. In this study, which expanded the research done for his doctorate, defended a decade earlier, Freitas provides a detailed analysis of six works or interventions by three visual artists (Cildo Meireles, Artur Barrio and Antonio Manuel) during the military regime. “This avant-garde art criticizes the dictatorship, but it is more conceptual: it is based on objects and performances and encourages spectators to participate in the work,” says Freitas. One of the performances studied is the work Tiradentes: totem-monumento ao preso político (Tiradentes: totem pole to political prisoners), presented in April 1970 during the Semana da Inconfidência, in Belo Horizonte, at which Cildo Meireles burned alive ten chickens tied to a stake, in a more or less direct allusion to the repressive practices of the dictatorship.

How, in a period after the AI-5, could an artist publicly question the authoritarian regime without being censored? “The fine arts had a smaller social presence than the performing arts and censors were more concerned about musical, theatrical and cinematographic productions, which affected a broader public,” says Freitas. He emphasizes an interesting point that occurred with Meireles and other avant-garde artists, such as Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark: as time passed, even during the dictatorship, but especially after it ended, these alternative artists became the principle exponents of their sector in Brazil and their work was highly valued.

This issue is still being debated by researchers, who question how this cultural hegemony of the left arose in recent Brazilian history. One significant school of thought among researchers defends the idea that to a large extent, this control occurred through the market, even though the military regime did have some initiatives in the cultural arena, such as the creation of Embrafilme in 1969, which sought to bring the production by some sectors under its sphere of influence. Also in 1969, support for the establishment of a private national television network, in this case, the Rede Globo network, was part of a project by the military to integrate the country and to influence culture. “The military regime invested a great deal in television infrastructure,” affirms Esther Hamburger from ECA-USP, who studies television and movie production in Brazil. “However, during the 1970s and 1980s, TV programming wasn’t always what the military leaders wanted.” Hamburger’s recent studies emphasized the role soap operas played in creating a closer approximation to national reality, even in the midst of the full force of the dictatorship (see PesquisaFAPESP Issue No. 186).

Being anti-dictatorship was also a posture recognized by a considerable share of consumers of leftist culture. “Some writers, like Carlos Heitor Cony, were not leftist, but ended up writing works that were associated with the struggle against the dictatorship and were then recognized as such by the market,” says Rodrigo Czajka, sociologist at Unesp in Marília who conducted studies on intellectuals and the communist press in Brazil. “This was the case for the novel Pessach (Passover), written by Cony, which describes the existential crisis of an intellectual in deciding whether or not to join the armed fight.” He has also studied the Police-Military Investigations (IPMs) on activities by numerous intellectuals linked to the resistance against the military regime. In fact, Czajka is the organizer of the colloquium “Culture and the arts in the military regime: 50 years after the coup,” which runs from May 22 – 25, at Unesp in Marília, in which some twenty experts will discuss cultural production during the dictatorship years.

1. Formation of intellectuals and the cultural industry in Brazil (No. 08/55377-3); Grant mechanism Thematic project; Principal investigator Sérgio Miceli – Unicamp; Investment R$534.463,00 (FAPESP).
2. Cinema and society: on the military dictatorship in Brazil (No. 09/04093-8); Grant mechanism Master’s degree scholarship; Principal investigator Marcelo Ridenti – (IFCH-Unicamp); Grant recipient Caroline Gomes Leme; Investment R$18,385.94 (FAPESP).
3. Political publishing in Brazil and in Portugal: publishing actions and political engagement in the struggle against the dictatorships (No. 2013/08668-0); Grant mechanism Doctoral degree scholarship; Principal investigator Sandra Reimão – Eca-USP; Grant recipient Flamarion Maués; Investment R$163,082.88 (FAPESP).