Bolivia: Feminist mural criticising church and state censored

28 October 2016

On 12 October 2016, a group of unidentified people painted over a mural just one day after it had been finished and displayed on the façade of the Museo Nacional de Arte (National Art Museum) in La Paz, Bolivia, because the group was strongly offended by its negative and graphic portrayal of two core Bolivian institutions: the Catholic Church and the State, reported news agency EFE on 12 October 2016.

“What happened yesterday was an act of censorship, absolutely fanatic, by people who want to cover with paint what cannot be covered anymore. It’s been an act of fear.” said Maria Galindo, leader of Mujeres Creando, the feminist group responsible for the mural, in an interview to Erbol Digital on 12 October 2016. “These people’s reaction is the society’s responsibility.”

Bolivian filmmaker Juan Carlos Valdivia told news agency Fides that Galindo had purposely created a “living” piece of art for people to react to, based on current social and cultural norms in the country. Once the mural was unveiled, people began defacing the mural by writing over or crossing out portions of the mural, reacting to the issues and emotions it was bringing up.

“This is a living work of art. The artist throws out an idea and is now receiving [feedback], and one form of receiving this is these people’s writing on the walls,” Valdivia said.

Later that evening, a group of people gathered in front of the mural and, amidst chanting of religious slogans, began whitewashing the mural. By the following morning it was completely covered up in white paint, reported independent journal Página Siete on 13 October 2016. It is believed, although unconfirmed, that some priests took part in that action.

Mural focussed on tough topics
The mural was comprised of two paintings. In the first painting, the artists directly attacked the Catholic Church and, in their view, its misogyny, by painting sexually explicit images denouncing the exploitation that women suffer under the social order it established.

In the second painting, the artists harshly criticised the State by painting a Bolivian national emblem redesigned with the phrase, “Bolivia in destruction”, accompanied, once again, by a large sexually explicit drawing emphasizing the feminist cause.

Galindo told EFE that the mural, which coincided with Bolivian Women’s Day, was commissioned by the International Art Biennial SIART, authorized by the Ministry of Cultures and intended to be displayed for one month.

From the moment it was unveiled, the mural generated extremely polarized reactions and police had to be present at the scene to protect Galindo and her fellow artists from the furious crowd. Angered women in the crowd shouted at police forces, demanding they take the mural down and threatening to do it themselves otherwise.

Gender violence in Bolivia
Bolivia is a profoundly Catholic country, where “gender violence causes more death and disability among women aged 15 to 44 than do cancer, malaria, traffic accidents, or war”, as reported by the Panos Institute and the Foundation for Sustainable Development.

The organisations further explain that around 50 percent of women throughout the country have admitted to being subjected to physical abuse or intimidation in their lifetime, which is considered to be an “astonishingly high percentage” as the World Bank stated that “only 2 to 8 percent of sexual abuses against women were ever reported, compared to 62 percent of assaults”, due to the fact that the “vast majority” of assaults come from within the family, thus keeping victims from reporting them.

Photo: Section of mural showing redesigned national emblem before it was painted over/Mujeres Creando website


» 20 Minutos – 15 October 2016:
Polemic in Bolivia due to a feminist mural

» Página Siete – 13 October 2016:
Censorship and damage to Mujeres Creando’s mural regretted

» Erbol Digital – 12 October 2016:
Galindo calls polemic mural’s covering “fanatical censorship”

» EFE News Agency – 11 October 2016:
The Bolivian Art Biennial opens with protests due to a mural against the Catholic Church

» Fides News Agency – 10 October 2016:
Mujeres Creando paints a provocative mural criticizing the Church

» Foundation for Sustainable Development:
Gender Equity Issues in Bolivia

» Mujeres Creando website:
Somos Ingobernables (We’re Ungovernable)

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