Miami mural of Rio police abuse painted over after officers complain

Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

A mural depicting police abuse in a Rio de Janeiro favela has been removed from the walls of a Miami events space after local police reportedly complained.

The work, by the Brazilian artist Panmela Castro, showed a black woman being held in a headlock, with the caption: “Woman who filmed abused [sic] by police officers is beaten and arrested.”

Related: ‘They have free rein’: Rio residents fear police violence under far-right rule

It was painted on in the parking lot of the Aria 21 venue on Monday as part of a week-long exhibition for Miami Art Week – but was painted over the following day after managers at the space told Castro police had complained.

“I did not imagine this would happen at one of the biggest art fairs in the US. I cried with revulsion,” said Castro, whose works have been exhibited internationally.

The mural was based on the experience of a student of Castro’s, who was handcuffed and arrested after filming police officers questioning a man in Rio de Janeiro’s Rocinha favela, days after police killed eight people in the neighbourhood.

“It talks about police abuse, so when the Miami police say it has to be removed it is also police abuse,” Castro said.

Killings by the notoriously violent police in Rio de Janeiro state have climbed under Brazil’s far-right president, Jair Bolsonaro, and the state governor, Wilson Witzel, who both campaigned on an iron-fist approach to violent crime.

Managers at Aria 21 said they did not want to jeopardise their good relationship with police.

“The commander saw the painting, and he calls us aside and he says: ‘If you guys really want to do good … you have to get this out,’” said Jerusa Noveletto, one of Aria 21’s managers. “We tried to explain that she’s from another country, she’s just trying to show what’s going on there – but they didn’t want to have that.” She was not sure which police station the message had come from.

Alessandra Gold, who runs Aria 21, said Castro was offered the chance to change her work but declined.

“[The police] were unsure why we had the message on the wall when we had such an amazing relationship,” she said. “We have 800 to a thousand people coming through, you have kids and families – and families of police officers, too – it is very family-orientated space. Her work was very aggressive.”

In an email, Wynwood’s police commander, Daniel Kerr, said there was absolutely no police involvement in the decision to remove the mural, which he said he was not aware of.

One Brazilian art specialist said the censorship – which came days after nine people were trampled to death when police raided a street party in a São Paulo favela – underlined that police violence is an issue in both countries.

“Panmela’s graffiti is a megaphone to denounce to the world what is happening in the poorer regions of big Brazilian cities,” said Ricardo Resende, an art critic from Rio.