Desvio Coletivo is a Brazilian group that develops urban interventions and performances based in the city of São Paulo, Brazil, and works on the frontier between urban performance and visual arts. The collective was created in December 2011 born out of meetings between professors and students of visual arts and performing arts courses linked to USP (University of São Paulo) and UNESP (Universidade Estadual Paulista).
Desvio Coletivo was born in a period in which the results of investments made in sociocultural policies were being reaped.
“We are an activist group and that is why we never cease to criticize those in power, because, even at a time when the Ministry of Culture had public policies aimed at a culture that was infinitely bigger, democratic and better than we have today, we still, always, thinking that it could be better,” says artistic director Priscilla Toscano.
The main characteristic of the group's projects is the creation of artistic interventions in different spaces, generating ephemeral “islands of disorder” of a critical poetic nature and with profound provocations.
Mamil(a)s is the work that allows the comeback of Desvio Coletivo to urban areas after two years of inactivity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. On Sunday, November 28, 2021, 16 people paraded along Paulista Avenue and Augusta Street, in São Paulo.
Brazil is apparently internationally known as the country of soccer and butts. In the effervescence of the ’90s, bodies, especially women’s, were the object of media exploitation for all audiences, lining the pockets of businessmen and producers who wouldn’t hesitate before displaying half-naked people on national television, even at inappropriate times of the day, such as when traditional Brazilian families would gather around the TV.
There were countless TV shows, beer commercials, musical idols, audience entertainers and so many other examples that contributed to shaping the collective imagination of the Brazilians about women’s bodies or their purpose.
This project is obviously not based on moral debates over what a woman can or cannot do with her body. Mamil(a)s is a reflection on the impact, the effect of this “education” in society, from the History of humanity to the rape culture.
In art history, women’s bodies were also considered objects, before TV was invented, their bodies had already been portrayed as something to be consumed or merely contemplated. There are innumerous examples of works in various artistic languages in which the woman is quite often shown from a male perspective, by the hands of painters or sculptors of their time, such as the Capitoline Venus statue. Being of unknown authorship, the 1,93 m statue is characterized by the position of Venus’ hands, considered uncommon in female nudes. She tries to cover her breasts and private parts timidly, standing after her bath. It is known that the work is a Praxiteles’ variant, a Greek sculptor who has conceived the idea of the female nude. Although its exact creation date is controversial, it is from the 4th century BC.
But why is it that centuries later the female body is still taboo? The taboo clearly lies on the woman’s body purpose and not the body itself.
“The purpose given to the woman’s body is always related to domesticated, gentle and subservient body. The patriarchal society expects the woman’s body to play the role of a mom/wife (to feed and maintain a household) or as an object (to be consumed), always passive, inert, while the man’s body has always been associated with the public space as well as with strength and power”, says Priscilla Toscano.
Mamil(a)s proposal is to deviate the meaning of this assumed purpose of the woman’s body, deep-seated in the history of humanity, which perceives it as a motherly/contemplative tool (passive, gentle, domesticated), and bring it to a political position on the streets, questioning the limits imposed by the same patriarchal society that over consumes it and rejects it in a kind of a regurgitation movement that turns the “country of butts” into the country that practices violence against women as well.
The driving force for the development of this project is the legal imposition towards empowered women, who want to own their bodies but aren’t allowed to do so.
Brazil's Penal Code
Brazil's Penal Code was promulgated in 1940, during the Estado Novo (President Getúlio Vargas) and effect in January, 1942. It is the third in Brazil's history and it came to replace the one from 1890. It was partly revised in 1984 by a group of jurists. In the decree-law no. 2,848 of December 7, 1940, Art. 233 says: "The image of the obscene act, which is understood as the practice of obscenity outdoors or in a public area, therefore punishing such practice with a detention period that ranges from 3 months to 1 year."
This means: in the eyes of Brazilian legislators, those people (or those women) who practice obscenity in public must be reprimanded.
“There’s a sexist feature when interpreting the law. The Federal Constitution ensures that everyone is equal by the law, so it’s the agent of the State’s job to interpret whether something fits the legal provision and thus must be considered a crime. In over 10 years of legal practice, I have never seen a man’s body being penalized for being shirtless in public places. My question is: why are women’s bodies treated differently? What does the agent of the State see and what is unseen in the applicability of this law?”, explain Leandro Brasilio, lawyer and one of the project’s creators.
The Federal Constitution of 1988 states says: “Everyone is equal by the law, with no distinction whatsoever, ensuring Brazilians and foreigners living in the country the inviolability of human life, freedom, equality, safety and property”. Therefore, it seems that we are facing a social and legal limbo: who allows male bodies the privilege to break the law? Who criminalizes the woman’s body, but not a man’s body?
These are some of the questions that will be covered throughout the project, which invites people of legal age (with or without artistic experience) to join Desvio Coletivo in an urban intervention, while searching politically and poetically for the following reflection: “Who’s afraid of women’s bodies?”.
There are countless answers to this question and many other ways of asking it. Moreover, to avoid cliches such as “black x white x fat x thin x rich x poor woman”, always putting women against each other, which is another patriarchal strategy.
The goal of this project is obviously not only to discuss the legality of being able to walk around with the upper part of your body uncovered. On top of everything, it is aimed at promoting a reflection over the woman’s body and its purpose in society, exploring art, history, religion, politics, pornography and even the invisibility that housewives face throughout their lives.