She created the massive, bright red land artwork, titled “Diva,” on the grounds of the Usina de Arte, a former sugar mill transformed into an arts incubator in the town of Água Preta in Pernambuco. The piece was conceived during a residency organized by the Usina de Arte and the Museum of Modern Art Aloisio Magalhães (MAMAM).
“Diva,” made of reinforced concrete and resin, was hand-sculpted by a team of more than 20 people during a period of 11 months. As the artist explains in a Facebook post, a nearly 20-foot-deep hole in the ground also had to be dug by hand, as the use of a mechanical excavator would have compromised her vision of intricate, sloping reliefs.
In a statement about the project, Notari notes that her piece is more than a likeness of genitalia. Its design, resembling a gaping gash in the earth, is also meant to reflect on the violence inflicted on the female body as well as on the environment.
“If it was just a vulva, I would have built the labia and the clitoris as well,” Notari said. “It is also a wound. The moment it appears, the piece’s field of interpretation is opened up to different dimensions, just like the exploitation of the earth by capitalism.”
Clarissa Diniz, an independent curator based in Brazil, wrote in Revista Continente that the sculpture is “an open wound that has been bleeding for a long time in the artist’s works.” References to fissures, cuts, and excavations have recurred throughout Notari’s practice for over two decades, Diniz notes.
The artwork has predictably sparked outrage from conservative groups in Brazil. Olavo de Carvalho, the right-wing writer known for helping President Jair Bolsonaro develop his extremist philosophies, mocked the sculpture in a characteristically offensive tweet.
As though anticipating the backlash, Notari said in her statement that the issues raised by her sculpture — particularly the human-led destruction of the environment and gender-based oppression — have become “increasingly urgent.” Bolsonaro’s presidency has been marked by climate denialism and overt sexism and homophobia, among other pernicious ideologies.
Fortunately, “Diva” has also gained a loyal following, and Notari has received expressions of support from fans all over the world, including a heartfelt message from the Vagina Museum in London.
“We adore Juliana Notari’s DIVA sculpture, and send her solidarity and love for all the hate she’s received from the far right,” tweeted the museum.