The two works …tornando na volta do mar…1 (Fernão Mendes Pinto) […returning with the tide… (Fernão Mendes Pinto)] belong to a group of twenty compositions created in 2004 and exhibited in 2006, based on the book Pilgrimage, Fernão Mendes Pinto’s extraordinary account of his travels to the Far East (1st edition in 1614). The two Untitled works from 2007 are a later addition to this series.
In transforming the written text into a visual composition, with the possibility of the visual transcription of the journey as a theme, David de Almeida uses the collage-assemblage of diverse elements – felts, fine wickerwork, wooden hashi – linked to the support and to each other by basting stitches and knots, in a reference to maritime cordage and the instruments and cosmographic maps of navigation. The compositions strike a balance of opposites (white/black, Yin/Yang) with great formal refinement, recurrently applying as an iconographic motif the sails of the ships, the circularity of the globe and the spherical shape of the sun and moon.
Composition 19DP4557 suggests the shape of a Chinese junk.
In work 19DP4560, the written word ‘WAKASA’ means youth in Japanese.
In composition 19DP4559, the male figure grasping a weapon was copied by the artist from a drawing detailing the position for shooting with a musket, taken from a Japanese manuscript made for a samurai in 1595, the Inatomi School Gunnery Manual (Inatomi-ryū teppō densh) (New York Public Library collection). This manual lists the thirty-two positions for shooting with a musket and was made at the height of demand for firearms in Japan. The illustrations combine the semi-naked bodies of the shooters – their nudity is used to clarify the details of the position shown – with explanatory written legends that, in David de Almeida’s drawing, are transformed into vegetation surrounding the figure, under a round sun contoured with a red cotton thread. As in the manual, where some of the legends reveal a concern with the lack of elegance and beauty in the shooting position – in contrast with the positions used in fencing, the traditional discipline of the Inatomi School –, David de Almeida takes great care in his compositions with equilibrium and the suggestion of lightness through shape and colour. At times, the black and white of the majority of elements is interrupted by the introduction of red. In this specific composition mentioned above, the red circle on white symbolises ‘good luck’, and appears as an invocation of the sun.
Finally, collage 19DP4558 shows the pages of two books on the history of China, as told to children, alluding to the merging of history with fiction in the construction of these great narratives, of which Pilgrimage is surely one.
1 Volta do mar refers to a navigational technique developed by Portuguese navigators during the 15th century.
Text by Ana Vasconcelos
Curator of the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum