In search of a non-Bolsonarist aesthetic

Image: Leo Zhao


From mysticism to the cult of death, there are several elements linked to the aesthetics of extreme right movements

“I will not remain so alone in the field of art, / and, firm, lofty and strong, / I will do everything for you to exalt you, / serenely, oblivious to your own luck.
So that I can one day contemplate you / dominating, in fervent transport, / I will say that you are beautiful and pure everywhere, / however much risk this audacity may take. […]” (Excerpt from “Liberdade”, poetry by Carlos Marighella).

What are we talking about?

Thinking about the possibility to which this article refers, the initial constitution of an aesthetic that escapes the molds pre-arranged by Bolsonarism requires, at first, thinking about the very meaning of the aesthetic question. Many authors, classics or contemporaries, tried to arrange their views in reference to the aesthetic term, thinking about it in different ways.

Authors from different currents, or from different fields of the human and social sciences, worked – and continue to work – on reflections that seek to define aesthetics, as well as its link to the political and social spheres. That said, in an initial moment, bringing a general overview regarding the significance and importance of aesthetics is of paramount importance to the proposition and first reflection of an aesthetic expression that aims to break with the barbarism imposed by the shackles of Bolsonarism.

Aesthetics does not mean beautiful. As stated by De Bruyne (apoud SUASSUNA, 2012, p.14), “Art does not only produce the Beautiful, but also the ugly, the horrible, the monstrous. There are masterpieces that represent horrible subjects, terrifying masks, nightmares that drive mad”. At the same time, its link to the artistic issue is in the sense that art acts as a way of objectifying aesthetics, and aesthetics is the way we hear, see and conceive in a given context – social or historical (BERNARDO, 2021).

Aesthetics, moreover, is a fluid, changing element. Fayga Ostrower (2013, p.282) stated that “[…] when life changes, values ​​and our representations of these values ​​change and, thus, styles change. [artistic]. In each particular case, we find the occurrence of profound social transformations as the essential cause of stylistic changes”. Returning to what has already been exposed here, referring to aesthetics as a way of hearing, seeing and conceiving, it is worth expressing once again the exception of aesthetics as a sphere that encompasses performances, rituals and other biases of a symbolic nature. That said, given that it changes in different periods, how does it present its link in contexts marked by totalitarian lines?

Walter Benjamin (2021, p.45-46) expressed his thoughts about this, evoking the concept of aestheticization of politics: “The masses have the right to demand the transformation of property relations: fascism sought to give them expression by keeping those relations intact. . Consequently, fascism tends towards the aestheticization of politics. That is, the aestheticization of politics is represented as a way of granting, through the aesthetic vehicle, the supposed possibility of expressing the desires of the masses. João Bernardo (2022, p.9) adds that fascism used this means, in addition to “[...] it raised to the maximum the exponent and the supraclassism and the apparent fusion of all the people, so the need for symbols reached there. an unprecedented degree, and politics was reduced, for the first time, to an exclusively aesthetic performance.

In recent years, it is clear that the extreme right has been – and is – in a state of growth – not only in Brazil, but throughout the world. Cas Mudde (2022) draws attention to the way in which parties from such an ideological framework not only increased their support but also got elected in a range of countries where their ideas were previously rejected. Brazil with Jair Bolsonaro and his base is just one of many reflections of this process.

In the meantime, in the lines that follow, we will represent an effort not only to try to think about how Bolsonarism appropriated the aesthetic character for the construction of an air of domination in the country, but also to present a kick to the constitution of an aesthetic that aims at break with these currents.


Bolsonarist aesthetics

João Bernardo (2022) highlights the use of artistic manifestations by fascism in several of its appearances throughout world history. Whether in the case of Italian fascism, German Nazism, Salazarism, or many other manifestations, the fascists developed a strong constitution and use of characterizations responsible for the realization of myths, signs, symbols, performances or artistic movements that acted in a way to support what was being defended by the movement in vogue. It was necessary for regimes with a totalitarian character to establish this core of passive identification of the people with their ideals, substantiating support for the movements that materialized in each space-time.

With Bolsonarism, the use of aesthetics did not happen anonymously. Although it may sound eccentric to read that the Bolsonaro government used artifices parallel to artistic manifestations to consolidate its power in the country, given its constant persecution of artists and other Brazilian cultural workers, the series of signs established by the former president not only gave him space for action, as well as expansion and consolidation of a strong base.

Robert Paxton (2007, p.23), in turn, still states: “In the most explicitly visual of all political forms, fascism presents itself to us through vivid primary images: a chauvinist demagogue haranguing an ecstatic crowd; disciplined rows of young people marching in parades; militants wearing colorful shirts and beating up members of some demonized minority; surprise raids at sunrise and impeccably fit soldiers marching through a captured city.”

What Robert Paxton (2007) seeks to affirm, in the highlighted passage, but also in the following pages of the cited work, is that fascism, in addition to acting as a political model, also acted in the production of images characteristic of its ideals. And, at the same time, what I seek to defend in these lines is related to the fact that Bolsonarism acted (and still acts) in the same way.

Jair Bolsonaro, by himself, is a valid memory, from the 2018 elections to the years that followed he is constantly referred to under the nickname of myth. This, in analysis under the perspective highlighted here, referring to the aesthetic constitutions of fascism, already demonstrates many things despite what would be constituted as a Bolsonarist movement. Claude Lévi-Strauss (2011) noted that mythology reveals important nuances of its coming society, but does not show the actual state of concreteness prevailing in it. Bolsonarism envisions in the image of its myth an aura of hope, change, direction, messianism. And it is, therefore, from this that Jair Bolsonaro emerges as a leader of the movement, being the leader, the messiah, the “captain”. As myths do not reveal the true reality, it becomes vertiginous to look beyond these pre-established certainties and see the reality of the person who speaks to the series of crazed followers.

Since Jair Bolsonaro is the myth, permeating the ideology of his followers, the human character attached to his figure is often stripped away in favor of a character associated with the messianic. And it is in this sense that during his four years in government he did not fail to receive a series of artistic tributes, manifested in the typifications of statues, paintings, caricatures, etc. The former president, who in turn is steeped in a strong sense of vanity, kept all this vast collection of tributes with him on a day-to-day basis, seeing himself in different angles and compositions throughout the Planalto Palace.

We should also emphasize that Bolsonarist mysticism is not applied only to treating its leader as a myth or messiah, but also to a religious passion itself. The constant reference to spiritual warfare, the prayer chains, the linking of his opponents to the characterization of evil forces, or the constant reference to Christianity illustrate this finding.

In addition, another element of an aesthetic nature linked to Bolsonarism is linked to its fascination with death. From the axes of dialogue, linked to the motto “A soldier who goes to war and is afraid to die is a coward” to the fissure for weapons, which not infrequently appear in photographs, illustrations or other artistic objects produced within the movement. Furthermore, exacerbated nationalism is another element in vogue. The capture of the Brazilian football shirt as a “uniform” of Bolsonaristas, the passion for the national flag or its colors, the glow and emotion for the National Anthem, in addition to the constant reference among members of groups under the sign of patriot are issues that illustrate this nuance.


Kick to a non-Bolsonarist aesthetic

The purpose of this article is not manifested in the conclusion of the debate related to the search for a break with Bolsonarist aesthetics; on the contrary, this article seeks to open doors to initiate a debate correlated to the theme in question.

As we had the chance to envision, the aesthetic debate, with regard to the whole range of subjects related to Bolsonarist themes, or the theme of the resurgence of the extreme right as a whole, in an antonymous way to what one might think at first sight, it is not something unimportant. Walter Benjamin (2021) already warned of the fact that the process of aestheticization of politics could behave as the element responsible for war.

In this sense, there is a need to establish a relationship of denial to the aesthetic propositions of the Bolsonarist movement, briefly grouped together in the course of the lines that followed. To think of an aesthetic arrangement that escapes personalization, the morbid and the totalitarian is to think about the chance of building a future horizon far from the oppressive characterization.

That said, constantly working in the search for ideas that support an action to break with the aesthetic ties of Bolsonarism presents itself as an action, both at the last minute and dependent on a collective and daily effort and construction.

*Juliana Antunes instudent in Social Sciences at the State University of Rio de Janeiro (UERJ).


BENJAMIN, Walter. The work of art at the time of the possibility of its technical reproduction (5th version). In: BENJAMIN, Walter. Aesthetics and Sociology of Art. Belo Horizonte: Authentic. 2021.

BERNARDO, John. Art and Mirror. Word of mouth 2021.

BERNARDO, John. Labyrinths of Fascism: Fascism as Art. Vol.5. Sao Paulo: Hedra. 2022.

LÉVI-STRAUSS, Claude. the naked man. Vol.4. Sao Paulo: Cosac Naify. 2011.

MUDDE, Cas. The Far Right Today. Rio de Janeiro: Eduerj. 2022.

PAXTON, Robert. The Anatomy of Fascism. São Paulo: Peace and Land. 2007.

OSTROWER, Fayga. Universes of Art. Campinas: Editora Unicamp. 2013.

SUASSUNA, Ariano. Introduction to Aesthetics. Rio de Janeiro: José Olympio Editora. 2012.

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