Tout ce que je veux: Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020

Ana Hatherly’s vast and diverse body of work runs the gamut from visual art to poetry, television to editing, teaching to research, and performance to translation. She says, however, that her work always starts with writing. Indeed, she sees herself as “a writer who drifts into visual art by experimenting with words”. Paradoxically, painting forms a starting point of its own: she considers herself to be “a painter who drifts towards literature simply through an awareness of the ties that bind all of the arts”.

This fluid approach to disciplines characterises Hatherly’s ongoing and interfused examination and experience of writing, be it “spoken, printed or handwritten”, whether archaic, baroque or eastern, and whether as an essay, poem or drawing. Visual writing, written drawings, image texts, significant stains: her works stem from an endless play in which she manipulates language and its form.

Puns, repetition, codes, mazes and copy: these are just some of the resources that the artist taps into, her discerning, “intelligent hand” creating ambiguity, conflicts of interpretation, divergent references and shifts in meaning.  Another example is the political posters ripped from walls following the Carnation Revolution. Variously torn down, stuck up and superimposed, their layers confuse, alter and liberate the revolutionary message itself.

Aurélia de Sousa was born in 1866 in Valparaíso, Chile. She later moved to Porto, Portugal, where she lived at the Quinta da China, an eighteenth-century house on the banks of the Douro, which would become the setting and studio for her countless paintings and photographs. Intimate interiors, portraits, scenes from everyday domestic life, gardens, still lifes, flowers and views of the river are all recurrent themes in her work, which is characterised by an expressive naturalism.

Her father died at a young age, and the artist had the intense and highly feminine experience of growing up in a family comprised mainly of women. Indeed, some of them, like Aurélia herself, never married or left their maternal home. The circumstances of being a woman at the turn of the 20th century and within the society of Porto, where she lived, or of Paris, where she joined the Académie Julian at the age of 30, are key to understanding de Sousa’s work, the significance of which was recognised rather belatedly by Portuguese art historians.

Her enigmatic, androgynous and provocative self-portraits, in which she depicts herself wearing a distinctive red coat, an outsize black bow or disguised as St. Anthony, are a historical example of a female artist asserting her identity as a creator.

Born in 1973, with Portugal on the cusp of revolution and amid a groundswell of democratisation, Carla Filipe would go on to deploy autobiography as a record of contemporaneity from an early stage of her career.

Taking the individual and subjective as a starting point for making wider collective and political points, her work centres on themes that are familiar to her, such as the challenges of living on the breadline, survival, working illegally and independence as a way of examining cross-cutting issues like notions of territory, work, property and representation. In her performances, installations, sculptures, drawings, posters and artist’s books, Filipe questions the structures that allow artists to be inscribed and protected within their professional and working sphere, as well as public community gardens or nightlife in the city of Porto, Portugal.

Her work draws upon the vital energy of the streets and the mechanisms by which they communicate: posters, words and images. She collates visual material from Portugal’s post-revolutionary period to create “experimental documents”, preserving graphic features but rejecting the text, then updating the propagandist message in the form of new prints, posters or banners. Such pieces declare, for instance, that “The cultural revolution belongs to the artist” and that “There will be no art tomorrow”.

The work and life of Graça Morais are steeped in the atmosphere and rural mythology of Trás-os-Montes, in the far northeast of Portugal. She splits her time between her studios in Lisbon and Vieiro-Freixiel, the village in northern Portugal where she was born in 1948. Vieiro-Freixiel is also home to people whose stories are interwoven with the characters, most of them female, that populate her drawings and paintings, in turn becoming muddled up with the artist herself: “I’m always telling my own story,” she says. Her bucolic childhood fuelled a rich world of images, replete with dogs, cats, goats, flowers and quince trees, but also evincing a fear of the dark, of wolves, the hooting of owls, the violence of men and the cruelty of nature.

“I can get at things faster by drawing,” she says, and she does indeed draw briskly, on large canvases and in her personal everyday notebooks, weaving mythical, tragic choreographies that layer the secrets of working women, the restless motion of animals, the astounding, transformative cycles of nature and minds that contain entire villages. Yet she also portrays “a world transfigured” by barbarity, the drama of war and the exodus of refugees underlining “the courage of people who venture into hell in a quest to rescue others”.

The work of Helena Almeida essentially deconstructs the two-dimensional nature of painting. Three-dimensional paintings from 1969 reveal the hidden side of the canvas, unveiling the view from elsewhere. The previously unseen side now displays the essential structure that supports the fabric, a curtain that covers, uncovers, falls and curls up, blending with the window it once concealed.

By wearing the canvas, Almeida explores the relationship between painting and the artist’s body in performance. She would go on to repeat such activities, photographed by Artur Rosa, her husband and “viewer number one”. In a series of black-and-white photographs, Almeida applies brushstrokes of a vivid blue, before proceeding to detach the colour and stash it in her pocket. She variously hides from or reveals herself to the viewer, whom she challenges to “Feel me, Hear me, See me” (Series “Sente-me, Ouve-me, Vê-me”). Through its countless iterations, this series explores the inherent impossibilities of the sensory experiences that have been stipulated.

Clad in “sharp, deep black”, her body cuts across highly architectural canvases that inhabit the space of her studio. This was the very place where, as a girl she would pose for her father, the sculptor Leopoldo Almeida. Here, too, she would examine the powers of seduction of a woman who, as she got older, reshaped her involvement with sculpture, crossing the wall, lowering her foot, her hand or entire body to the floor.

Joana Rosa bases her work on doodles or scribbles, as she describes them, alluding to the impetuous nature of universal actions such as “breaking a match between your teeth, fiddling with an empty sugar sachet in a café or sucking and biting a pen”.

The artist draws in an automatic fashion, favouring form over content. Some drawings end up drenched in detail, fantastical and replete with colour; others, rendered in lead and graphite on tracing paper, are colossal, monumental creations. The latter, in macerated black, stem from the practice of overlapping, concealing and uncovering layers. When we delve deep into them, we uncover mechanical forms, intimate writings and appropriated drawings. Such fragments are crumpled, overlaid, stapled and stuck to the wall at the point of installation, based on a sweeping and highly performative conception of space that is informed by the artist’s past experience as a dancer.

Rosa couples her interdisciplinary approach with a penchant for collecting, classifying and cataloguing appropriated objects and texts, creating a veritable archive of actions and notes that map visceral human behaviour.

The work of Joana Vasconcelos plays with stereotypes and clichés, bringing together ostensibly opposing categorisations – popular and erudite, traditional and contemporary, kitsch and classical, public and private, humour and criticism. Confronting such dichotomies often lies at the root of her work.

Her sculptures are spectacular, monumental and baroque, expressing exuberant movement, sound, light and colour, sometimes as a cumulative effect. Vasconcelos’ usual practice is to repeatedly juxtapose identical objects to create a new object. The resulting displacement of meaning and the sense of surprise give rise to new narratives and meanings.

The use of pots, cutlery, mirrors, doilies, tights, gems, flowers and feathers – all everyday objects associated with the feminine sphere amid a culture that is essentially patriarchal – raises questions about dominance, subjugation and the invisibility of gender.

Some of the pieces make reference to popular Portuguese culture, especially the fado singing of Amália Rodrigues, filigree hearts from Viana, the Barcelos cockerel, pottery from Caldas da Rainha and crochetwork from Pico. The artist celebrates the collective imagery of such national symbolism and acknowledges the value of the practices, techniques, materials, traditions and rituals involved.

Maria Capelo depicts landscapes in an ancient and universal tradition, capturing specific places in southern Portugal, northern Italy and Spanish Extremadura. Whether painting or drawing, Capelo starts by observing natural scenes that are defined by a certain harshness – neither truly inhabited nor totally isolated. She then translates what she observes into her work, attempting to rekindle an experience, rather than simply reproducing a scene.

Austere and arid, her compositions feature a pared-back array of elements: a vision of trees, punctuated here and there by branches, shrubs, paths and rocks. By reclaiming and reconfiguring these elements in terms of perspective, scale and meaning, Capelo comes up with different ways of expressing the same distorted and imagined idea of the landscape. The artist also works with photography as documentary material for pinning down reality, sustaining memory and shedding light upon any enigmas.

Her paintings are rigorously thought out and patiently crafted. They draw viewers closer to the canvas, where they discover an apparent chaos of vegetation and geological forms, testament to fleeting moments in the past. As Capelo sees it, “everything that happens on Earth leaves its trace on the landscape, and all human activity, be it political, cultural or economic, shapes the place where it occurs”.

A firm fixture on the international art circuit from a young age, Vieira da Silva was a prominent figure within the School of Paris. She settled in the city in 1928 and met people who would go on to shape the course of her life, especially gallery owner Jeanne Bucher and the Hungarian-Jewish painter Arpad Szenes, who would later become her husband and close companion in her work.

Vieira da Silva was the first woman to receive the French Grand Prix National des Arts in 1966. Yet despite being a naturalised French citizen, her work maintained an unceasing dialogue with Portugal, her country of birth, and in particular with Lisbon, where she grew up in an intellectually stimulating environment. As an adult, she would return there on numerous occasions. Her relationship with the city was evident from her work, which contains constant references to its light, topography, architecture and tilework.

Her conception of urban life is expressed in abstract paintings of great complexity, which proliferate through labyrinthine webs, three-dimensional lattices and mirrored perspectives. Adopting an array of formats, settings and themes, ranging from the intimate to the monumental, effervescent joy to anguish, portrayals of herself and depictions of the world, the work of Vieira da Silva asserts itself forcefully as a complex “theatre for the gaze”.

Rosa Ramalho was the most renowned creator of Figurado de Barcelos [Figures of Barcelos]. These originate from a Neolithic clay tradition that is specific to this town in northern Portugal. Such figures are distinguished from other pottery pieces by their spontaneous, playful character, rather than being designed for any practical purpose. 

The clay modeller’s pieces are enigmatic and disconcerting, interweaving everyday life with fantastical and religious elements with abandon. The “dolls” that she used to mould and expand upon the tradition and imagery variously take the form of Christ figures, saints, devils and little shrines, “wild beasts” and hybrid creatures such as werewolves or men with the head of a donkey. Yet there are also women in ox-drawn carts and children on bicycles. Such pieces evoke and are infused with the narratives and ancestral rituals of the region. Ramalho’s pieces bear the standard traits of the form, but also have startling, grotesque features. They range from a monochrome ochre to exuberantly colourful creations.

Her unique work, an expression of the artist’s eccentricity and surreal vision, initially garnered support from contemporary artists – first António Quadros and later Ernesto de Sousa in the 1950s and 60s – against the backdrop of an ethnographic movement that would go on to encourage the breaking down of barriers between popular and high art, raising the profile of the former as ‘naive art’, free of the codes prevalent in modern and contemporary art.

Salette Tavares was a highly accomplished and interventionist artist who spanned a great many genres. A distinguished poet, critic, essayist, translator and performer, she was a pioneer of performance, concrete poetry, spatial poetry and conceptual art, but she also worked as an educator and cultural agitator and headed up various associations. As the artist behind an extensive body of radical and provocative work, she declared that “to make something is the most religious service that a human being can perform”.

Her work explores the possibilities of combining writing, images, the page, body and space, resulting in unique objects and poems that defy and subvert the rules of language. Her playful, parodic visual exploration of the word using graphic and phonetic elements and the way in which she transforms mundane objects into poetic experiences inform her experimentation with form and communication. This is manifested in installations, typography, screen printing, prints, embroidery and tapestry.

“I’m still on close terms with my inner child,” she says, explaining the constant presence of humour, playfulness, fun, mischief and experimentation as the “natural and permanent state” of her work. The “creative dialogues” that she initially sets up with her family take their cue from her status as artist/woman/mother. These test our creative perception and call for active participation from viewers.

Sarah Affonso grew up in Viana do Castelo, in northern Portugal. The festivities, beliefs and traditions of the Minho region, especially processions, popular festivals, dances and weddings, form the backdrop to an idyllic, almost mythical imaginary realm, where, she says, “everything is a scene waiting to be painted”. Affonso was also influenced by the popular art produced in those parts, especially the clay figures of Barcelos, which feature in her paintings.

Her vividly colourful works are allegorical and ostensibly naive, while being modern in their themes, references, synthesis of forms, contours and precisely defined composition. Affonso had an ethnographical instinct: her gaze was drawn to time-honoured rural life, the rituals of fishermen and the doings of women and children. This was expressed in drawings, embroidery and ceramics, although the rate at which she produced paintings slowed following her marriage to Almada Negreiros in 1934.

Intimate portraits – of herself, her children and grandchildren – would come to predominate in her work. Working within an essentially masculine artistic milieu, she would go on to produce a major series of portraits of her circle of friends and peers, in a  formally synthetic style, yet with all the psychological intensity of a mind “accessing painting through emotion”.

Sónia Almeida examines the idea of painting as a system of language, a decorative act or a conceptual process. Her paintings feature intense, vibrant colours, applied in saturated smears and layers that are variously opaque and transparent, pushing at the limits of figuration and abstraction. These elements can also be seen in her tapestries, some of which are created by printing pixelated images onto the material, so that the image mingles with the very texture of the piece.

Books as form, texts as a weaving or structuring of words, and writing as formal expression or phonetic oddity are often themes or subjects in her work. Covering the full range of analogue and digital media, Almeida touches upon the medieval anthropomorphic alphabet, in which the letters are formed by contorted bodies; Raven’s Progressive Matrices, figures used to test analogue reasoning, the capacity for abstraction and perception; patterns generated from errors caused by websites, based on digital images; and techniques and iconographies associated with femininity, delicacy and decorum.

Her paintings, made using materials such as plywood, door hinges and LED lights, mounted onto asymmetrical mechanisms or assemblies, appear to slip, unfurl, overlap and disclose, with plays of perception and illusion that allow them to be viewed in a tactile, performative way, from multiple points of view.

A painter, illustrator, designer and engraver, Mily Possoz trained and worked as an artist in Lisbon, Düsseldorf, Brussels and, in particular, Paris. Although she was most prolific as a painter, with work characterised by the use of strong, sensual colour, loose, sweeping brushstrokes and the poetic mood of her themes, she gained the greatest renown as an engraver, especially for her illustrative and editorial work. This allowed her to earn a living from her work from the very outset.

She was a founding member of the Jeune Gravure Contemporaine society, created in Paris in 1929. Her work was shown in group exhibitions of engraving, alongside pieces by the likes of Cézanne, Matisse and Picasso. She explored drypoint and lithographic techniques, in the course of which the pared-back, stylised aesthetic of Japanese engraving seeped into her work. Said traits can be found in pieces such as the drawing of the cats. She also spent much time poring over Flemish and surrealist paintings, the influence of which is evident from the subtle figurative distortion of her still lifes, portraits and landscapes.

Her work is notable for its cosmopolitan city scenes and bourgeois domestic interiors in which men, cats and dogs are mere background presences, while women take centre stage, reading, contemplating, resting, relaxing and socialising. These are modern, emancipated, independent, intellectual women, much like Mily herself.

In the post-war era, Maria Lamas, a writer, journalist, feminist activist and political opponent of the dictatorial regime in Portugal, published As Mulheres do Meu País [The Women of My Country], an extensive collection of photographs that together painted a detailed portrait of practices, activities and living conditions of working Portuguese women. The portraits were arranged into ten general topics – the peasant women, the working women, the seaside woman, the riverside women, the common woman and her various occupations, the maids and professionals, the ones who work in the cottage industries, , the housewives, the intellectual and the artist. These included Lamas’ own photographs, taken the length of Portugal, as well as pictures from elsewhere by other photographers, interspersed with narrative text that provided a critical reflection on the images.

Described by Lamas as an “expression of sororal solidarity with the women of my country”, As Mulheres do Meu País was published in instalments between May 1948 and April 1950 in direct response to the policy to disband the National Council of Portuguese Women. Lamas herself had previously chaired this historic organisation, which had taken a key role in standing up for women in Portugal amid the struggles of the international feminist movement. This unique ideological document was interpreted as a work of counterpower in a repressed country awash with fascist policies, macho moral standards, widespread female illiteracy and picturesque iconography based on folklore.

Lourdes Castro lived in Paris from 1958 onward. Together with other young Portuguese artists in cultural exile there, including René Bértholo, António Costa Pinheiro, Gonçalo Duarte, José Escada and João Vieira, she founded the magazine KWY, which would feature contributions from figures such as Christo and Jan Voss. She was constantly creating other books and albums, and played freely with genres, formats, supports and techniques.

Her penchant for letters, poetry and typography is also apparent from the artist’s high relief and bas-reliefs, created through the assembly, collaging and painting of everyday and domestic objects in boxes. One fundamental practice in her work is to capture, project and then trace the outline of the shadow of objects, especially plants and her own friends. Painted onto canvas, embroidered on sheets or cut out of acrylic, these transposed silhouettes summon a presence within absence, like a twin figure, a reincarnation of the original. “It’s the littlest thing that I can grasp of a person,” says the artist. Ghostly, floating and transparent, the figures kiss, smoke and sleep, while a Shadow Play depicts the artist performing mundane chores.

In 1983 she and the artist Manuel Zimbro returned to Madeira, the island on which she had been born in 1930. Castro lives there to this day, in a house with a garden that she describes as her canvas.

Drawing has provided the constant underpinning for Paula Rego’s work, from the naive figuration during her years of training at the Slade School of Art to her political collages about a country under dictatorship, from narrative pieces in acrylic to large-format pastel works, and from studies in pencil and watercolour to etchings and aquatint images.

The constant thread running through the artist’s work is the imaginary reinvention of the literature of authors such as Charlotte Brontë, Eça de Queiroz, Franz Kafka, Hans Christian Andersen and Martin McDonagh. Rego seeks to “integrate eternal stories into our contemporary mythology and subjective experience through painting”. Rego creates an utterly original figurative language based on those stories, be they traditional tales, fairy tales, novels or plays.

The models for the main characters in Rego’s pictorial tales are people from the artist’s own inner circle or childish and grotesque three-dimensional “dolls” that she makes and incorporates into symbolic and fantastical scenes. Painted from direct observation, the models portray individual feelings and trauma, but also collective and female ones, especially in the “Abortion” series, a political manifesto addressing Portugal’s first referendum on the voluntary termination of pregnancy. Rego’s vivid paintings offer a haunting portrait of contemporary society and, at the same time, human nature itself.

Contemplation of the body and space and the deconstruction of the mechanisms by which art is sanctified and received are concerns that run through the entirety of Ana Vieira’s work. Her career has been marked by disciplinary complexity and a feel for the poetic that spans theatre, painting, sculpture, photography, sound, environment and installation.

The titles of her exhibitions from 1968 onwards denote the nature of the work on display. Imagens Ausentes [Absent Images] and Ambiente [Milieu] explore dichotomies such as public/private, presence/absence, interior/exterior and transparency/opacity. In a dining room, plates, cutlery and glasses are laid out neatly on a table, which is surrounded by chairs. The public hears but cannot see a familiar setting; it is off-limits to them. They find themselves expecting a scene that never happens. A mesh prevents viewers from accessing the work, thus making the constraints associated with the customary public experience of art part of the work itself.

Variously using cut-out silhouettes, projected outlines, hidden objects, revealed rooms, a corridor once walked down, a longed-for house and a volcano crossed by lights, Ana Vieira’s scenography moves from the gallery to public spaces, and even out into the natural landscape of the Azores, where she grew up. Her works are gradually scaled up so that our bodies become inscribed onto them as we are urged to traverse and inhabit them.

Ângela Ferreira’s own life story is woven into her work. She was born in Maputo, known at that time as Lourenço Marques, in Mozambique, a former Portuguese colony. She attended university in Cape Town, South Africa, during the Apartheid era. Her work draws upon colonial and post-colonial narratives, proposing a sculptural revisiting of the recent past and the power-based relationships between people and countries.

The “end of colonialism, the emergence of new countries and the burgeoning of an independent Africa is the period that most arouses my curiosity,” says the artist, whose work has a particular focus on liberation movements, revolutionary dynamics and the political, social and cultural utopias that proliferated within that context.

Ferreira’s artistic practice stems from processes based on historical research, challenges modern discourses and objects, and manifests itself in formally refined installations, where models, texts, drawing, sculpture, photography, sound and video all coexist. Variously inspired by mobile and static architecture, buildings and monuments, individually or collectively designed structures, and vehicles for propaganda and counterpower, the artist produces works that celebrate, map, interpret and preserve models of the past, while imagining possible futures.

Grada Kilomba’s work encompasses post-colonial studies, gender studies, theatre and literature.  Her work fuses artistic and academic languages, making indiscriminate use of diverse media, such as texts, books, photography, video, installation, staging, music and lecture-performance. “I have no interest in working in a single discipline; I’m interested in telling stories,” she says.

She is a word artist, drawing upon her roots in Angola and São Tomé and Príncipe and harnessing contemporary and ancestral black oral traditions everywhere from Africa to its diasporas to tell stories of slavery, colonialism and everyday racism. By playing out change in her main characters and customary narrators, she puts the voices and bodies of those who are customarily silent at the centre of the discourse. Her voice transports us to digital and futuristic scenarios, featuring graphic art in a minimalist style against a black or white background, with tightly orchestrated lighting, sound, text and composition, and where black actors and the artist herself move around the scenes, talking.

By staging foundational texts such as the myths of Narcissus and Echo, telling the story of Anastacia, a slave woman, or reading from her book Memórias de Plantação [Plantation Memories], Kilomba exposes the importance of raising awareness and deconstructing racism, and the steps that need to be taken as part of that process: “denial, guilt, shame, recognition and reparation”.

The serial nature of drawing is at the root of Ana Léon’s exploration of the language of cinematographic animation. Manually created moving images and the transition from abstraction to figuration are defining concerns in the artist’s work.

Léon uses dolls with jointed limbs or made of clay as her main visual elements, which she then manipulates and photographs against black backdrops, shooting a complete Super 8 film image by image. She then gives her animations a soundtrack made up of clips of music from various sources. Other works include video productions, but the visual crudeness and aged look invariably reveal the artisanal and fragile nature of the entire process.

The soundscape and visual setting, complete with volatile lighting, add to the psychological strain. The actions, interactions, performances and choreography of the characters – humans, animals and toys – range from violent and cruel to innocent and absurd, playful and laughable, thus conveying a childlike perversity coupled with a poetic, melancholic and haunting atmosphere. “The themes deal with conflicts and unlikely communication,” says the artist, referring to the tension that also plagues the relationship between the production of film and the creation of drawing within her work, which is at once autonomous, metamorphic and cannibalistic.

Armanda Duarte's work is site-specific to such a degree that her proposals are actually determined by her observation and analysis of each given space. She observes the characteristics and details of any given context in search of the essence which will lead the process of creation up to the work's final reception. Her spatial poetics, which involve drawing, sculpture, installation and architecture, provoke subtle and intimate experiences.

Duarte's stripped down, austere and delicate stagings result from the manipulation and composition of everyday objects such as stones, cutlery or tin can lids according to precise objectives such as measurement, balancing and replication. In her work, objects and simple gestures are subjected to almost scientific processes of repetition and systematisation that imply their conceptualisation, the definition of research criteria, and the normalisation of rigorous collection and editing procedures.

Duarte's intense activity ultimately leads to an apparently unproductive, mute, discreet, at times almost imperceptible or even microscopic result, such as the foot and knee marks in saw dust that bear witness, on the ground and far from the public's gaze, to the slow disappearance of an object and the traces of the body that made it disappear.

Although related to space, architecture and landscape, the work of Inês Botelho is eminently sculptural. Her technical exploration and challenging of materials such as lime, clay, wood and metal give results that are as precise as they are impossible. Based on previously formulated designs and drawing on the experience and collaboration of traditional craftspeople, Botelho alters the qualities and physical states of raw materials in order to elude and subvert elementary universal phenomena and concepts such as mass, movement, shadow, gravity, orientation and time.

In drawing as in sculpture, her formal poetics are developed from actions based on vocabularies of geometry (line, reflection, transposition and rotation), architecture (wall, tent, plumb, stake and inhabitant) and geography (border, map, landscape and territory). Her works are drawings in space that are formalised as unusual proposals for interaction. They call into question the paradigms of world order such as cosmic and planetary cycles, and destabilise the relational dynamics between people, objects and spaces, inducing an unrealistic perception of scale and perspective and undermining the notion of common space.

Particularly interested in the philosophy of language and the mechanisms of perception and communication, Luisa Cunha develops work in drawing, video, photography, objects, interventions and performance, and especially in the form of texts and sound sculptures, creating proposals that break down the boundaries between public and private, and that take on the intimate tone of the voice that enunciate them, often that of the artist herself.

The devices of her works are minimalist and contained, and their discretion allows viewers to focus all their attention on the details of the written text or spoken word, filling the space with mental images and creating environmental sculptures. As simple as they are brazenly out of the ordinary, her messages challenge the listener in the form of whispers, murmurs and secrets. Expressions like "É aqui!" [It's here!], "Shh", "Luisa", "Não, não é ele" [No, it's not him] or "Senhora! Toda a gente sabe!" [Madam! Everybody knows!] surprise viewers during the exhibition, while others such as "Turn around" or "Os visitantes que vêm a esta exposição são gentilmente convidados a permanecerem numa posição erguida e a manterem-se em silêncio" [The visitors who come to this exhibition are kindly asked to stay in an upright position and remain silent] comment on and induce public behaviour and subvert institutional protocol. Repeated in a loop, these expressions lose their initial emotional charge and sense, and open to the imagination and meaning of the listener.

While Maria Antónia Siza produced hundreds of works on paper, including drawings in Indian ink, watercolours, gouaches and prints, alongside embroidery and some paintings, her production remained unknown to the public until very recently, almost half a century after her tragic death at the age of 32.

Her drawings are mainly figurative, with linear expression and a calligraphic quality. She always began by drawing the feet of her subjects, which were then developed spontaneously on the paper in energetic, ascending and zigzagging lines. In this way, figures were revealed as surreal, grotesque, deformed and contorted beings, engaged in indiscernible but individualised actions and gestures, appearing variously standing, falling on the floor or lying in bed. These figures – aged, decrepit and agonising men and women – seem almost always to float. Clustered in incorporeal constellations, they shift and find balance in dynamic melancholic choreographies of enormous complexity and compositional rigour, enacting shared and coordinated gestures. Others, in contrast, appear isolated, silent and enigmatic on the white and empty background of the page.

Disquieting and bizarre, delirious and fantastic, intimate and tragic: thus is Maria Antónia Siza's free and personal universe characterised, a violent and brutal manifesto on the frailty of the human condition.

Maria José Oliveira first developed her work in ceramics before extending it to drawing, collage, jewellery, sculpture and installation, always reflecting a dual concern with nature and the body as concepts, materials, supports and models. 

Most of her works are composed of natural and organic materials, several of which are impermanent or degradable, such as coffee, plant residues, earth, milk, dried leaves and stems, eggs, vegetable resin, stones, bread dough, baker's oven ash, lime, raw and baked clay, paraffin, oxidised iron and handmade paper. Her palette is reduced and sober, varying from neutral colours to red and golden ochres, the latter accentuated by the occasional application of gold leaf. Each material assumes a certain symbolic and esoteric value in the whole, formalised through performative and ritualistic practices such as tearing, binding, baking, weaving, joining, opening, cutting and drying.

 Modelled on, for and by the body, as prostheses or simulacra of body parts, her precious and almost mystical objects are as eccentric, irregular and imperfect as the human body itself.

Susanne Themlitz combines sculpture, installation, painting, drawing and video to create a personal language, a unique set of images and a personal microcosm.

She explores the sensorial plasticity of raw materials as varied as clay, wood, bronze, fibreglass, cement, clothes, shoes, funnels, aluminium tubes and plastic buckets, paying particular attention to textures, surfaces, cracks and colours to deeply engage the senses. These materials are used to stage organic landscapes, precarious habitats or unusual figurations that highlight the ambiguity of the relationships between the natural, the human and the animal, and that evoke the emotional experience of dream and childhood narratives, flowing freely between the real, the imagined and the symbolic.

Her works propose alternative realities, geographies and atmospheres, each deeply inventive and subjective. Their settings, inhabitants and constituent elements seem vaguely recognisable, connecting to a primordial or subconscious state. Belonging to a species foreshadowed in mythology, literature and bedtime stories, hybrid, mutant, legendary, disquieting, fantastic, grotesque, metamorphic, tragic and scornful creatures feed the identitarian questioning of the work as the artist's alter ego or as the representation of a surrealist, complex, and enigmatic humanity.

Isabel Carvalho develops her work between visual arts and writing, focusing on language and its creative and transformative potential. Her work includes drawing, painting, sculpture, installation and performance, but also literature, book publishing, magazines, blogs, websites, posters and artist publications. Breaking down boundaries between high and popular culture, she embraces ideas of amateurism, authorial expropriation, encounter, exchange and collaboration, sometimes fictionalising these through the use of heteronyms such as Clara Batalha.

Carvalho relies on the daily recording of banal events, word games and anagrams. She explores language as a cultural construction, remaining particularly attentive to non-verbal communication, desire and eroticism in female and queer identities in relation to the other, to ecology, to the economy and to politics. 

Self-management forms part of Isabel Carvalho's practice of continuous intervention in the creation of independent territories, especially in and from the city of Porto in Portugal. This activity includes self-publishing, management and programming of exhibition spaces, the organisation of residences and community kitchens, the holding of music and spoken word concerts, and the creation and maintenance of digital platforms, among other poetic and concrete actions.

Within the genealogy of pop art, the provocative initial works of Clara Menéres gave rise to some controversy in the artistic scene of a country still deeply mired in dictatorship. In spectacular figurations of hyper-realistic detail, scale and intense chromaticism, these works explicitly referred to the concealment of child prostitution, to the constant arrival of dead young soldiers from the trenches of the Colonial War, and to the subordination of the sexuality and living conditions of women in a country ruled under a dominant machismo culture.

Her feminist struggle against the patriarchy would continue in the Portuguese post-revolutionary period, culminating with the organisation in 1977 of an important exhibition of works either by women artists or which paid homage to the female body, invoking the latter’s mythical-religious treatment in ancient cults related to fecundity and life cycles.

Her approach of ritualisation of the sacred intensified in 1980 when a revelation of a mystical nature led the artist to embark on a less provocative body of work focused on formal and material essentialism. In 1987 she produced a series of works in stone and light. Deeply sensory in nature, these works explore ideas of transcendence and ecstasy, bringing together the crude and unpolished nature of marble stone with the luminous and tubular phosphorescence of neon lighting.

In O prazer é todo meu [The pleasure is all mine], Patrícia Garrido presents a series of voluptuous objects modelled from the forms of her own body and coated with the lush shades of her makeup. Here she embarks on a project of identity and affirmation that unfolds in the form of installations, objects and videos. Developing her work from a basis in her own personal experience, the artist performs an ongoing daily collection of found materials which interest her only "insofar as they bring a piece of real life with them", going on to reorder and transform these materials into volumes with a strong sculptural presence, such as compressed cubes or large floor coverings.

While developing her work, Patrícia Garrido dedicates herself to obsessive processes of recording, measurement, quantification and repetition, listing everything she has ingested during two weeks, all the clothes she has owned in a given period, or the amount of steps she has taken inside until completing a kilometre. Eminently performative and suggestive, her work triggers abstract and mathematical concepts such as geometry, plane, module and distance. Departing always from a notion of herself and her body as the measure of all things, the artist makes her physical, subjective and intellectual experiences in her studio, at home or with her friends into the central theme of her work.

Crossing sculpture, installation and architecture, Fernanda Fragateiro's works enter into dialogue with the museological, public, natural and landscape spaces they occupy. The works establish relationships of scale, environment, matter, balance and narrative with the elements surrounding them, sparking performative actions such as entering, walking or sitting. They articulate heavy commonplace building materials such as wood, plaster, cement, brick and aluminium with smooth, mirrored, polished and chromed surfaces, proposing, in their extreme economy and formal rigour, the enhancement of their conceptual foundations. As the artist herself says, "I want the material, the earth, the stone, the wood, to be content. (...) I want the material to be as close as possible to the idea, to the thought."

If some of her projects result from direct collaborations with artists, landscape architects or performers, others take as their starting point critical and political engagement with the work of architects and designers who have marked breakthroughs, inflections and ideological failures in the history of modernism. This framework is reinforced by a reference to the idea of the library and to the constant use of books, often rare editions selected for the relevance of their content as well as for their form.

Patrícia Almeida's photography emerged from her interest in romantic literature, pop-rock music and urban counter-cultures, an experiential and aesthetic repertoire that determined the setting of her images. An attentive observer of contemporary reality and open to its sensory experience, she made extensive documentary series of great plastic consistency and intense subjectivity.

She became interested in the urban imaginary, focusing on architecture, public spaces, lifestyles, people and gestures that were at once specific and global. In “Portobello” she captures the iconography underlying the phenomenon of the mass summer tourism that occurs in seaside resorts in the Algarve region of southern Portugal, imbuing it with an almost commercial exoticism and revealing stereotypes and consumerist aspirations: the standardised settings, the programmatic happiness of families, the eroticisation of young tanned bodies. Developed in music festivals, “All Beauty Must Die portrays the idyllic atmosphere of youth, its drive towards the tragic and melancholic, its irreverence and freedom, its candour and bewilderment.

Reacting to encounters that are sometimes spontaneous and at other times provoked, Patrícia Almeida created bodies of images that rub up against and speculate on the border between the real and the unreal, the documental and the fictional, the political and the poetic.

Gabriela Albergaria's work proposes a cosmovision based on the primacy of nature and on the need for its experience, investigation, revitalisation and cultural reconstruction. Through means including sculpture, installation, photography and drawing, her works propose the repair and healing of plant ecosystems weakened by a process of systematic destruction. Her work pushes back against the finiteness of natural resources with the creative and experimental power of art. She recreates compositions in which drawings complete or imagine missing parts of landscape photographs, in which sculptures rebuild trees that are already dead or condemned to removal.

Gabriela Albergaria highlights, collects, groups, classifies, catalogues and manipulates natural specimens, revealing their diversity. She makes use of the colours, shapes and representations of these specimens' constituent elements, transforming and decontextualising them to narrate a sensory and subjective experience, but also an aesthetics and politics of landscape. She is interested in ecology, the history of gardening and the domestication of nature, botany and landscape architecture. Guided by a critical vision of the historical processes of appropriation, exploitation and acculturation of the natural world, Gabriela Albergaria subliminally appeals to an organic union with living nature.

Filipa César's recent filmography reflects on the contemporary history of Portugal, in particular on the marks and representations of dictatorship, oppression and colonialism. Her work examines the history of political events through their ideological representation in discourse and images, particularly those produced as a counterpoint to official narratives, conveying spaces of resistance and freedom.

Some of her films explore fictional aspects of documentary cinema, focusing on dissent and invisibility of non-normative bodies during the authoritarian and conservative political regime in power in Portugal between 1933 and 1974, such as the accounts of smugglers who helped deserters and activists flee the country over the border at Melgaço, or of the homosexual women who were exiled to a forced labour camp in Castro Marim.

Filipa César also investigates the history of the cinema of struggle and liberation in Guinea-Bissau, seeking to give visibility to its emancipatory, anti-colonial, collective, ethnographic and avant-garde project through immersion in its visual and sound archives. Critically incorporating some of her experiences in film archives, creating the conditions for their restoration and promoting their viewing and discussion in various places inside and beyond Guinea-Bissau, Filipa César seeks to reactivate and reinterpret the utopias of the past in the present.

Self-defined as a "worker in the arts", Maria Keil engaged with collaborative formats and the idea of integration across the arts. She dedicated herself to artistic expressions such as painting, tiles, illustration, engraving, tapestry and set, graphic and furniture design.

She began to collaborate with architect Francisco Keil do Amaral, her husband, before joining the Technical Advertising Studio, where she worked alongside other modernist artists, taking part in a movement of design renovation in Portugal that would be co-opted by the authoritarian regime in its modernising impulse during the 1930s and 1940s. Maria Keil carried out numerous commissions for state bodies, collaborating in the promotion of tourism – from the design of tourist guides to the interior design of inns – and in the museographical production of Portuguese pavilions participating in international exhibitions and fairs. She later collaborated in the construction programme of the Lisbon metro, producing mural decorations in various stations with innovative graphic, geometric and abstract compositions whose subtle variations in colour and pattern establish a sensitive dialogue with their surrounding architecture. This work of public art was of an unprecedented scale and made a decisive contribution to the revitalisation, renovation and revaluation of tile work in Portugal. 

Although with intermittent visibility, the work of Maria José Aguiar has been a periodic participant in re-readings of contemporary Portuguese production in recent decades. This insertion in major thematic exhibitions has revealed the value of her work's experimentalism, freedom and irreverence, but also highlighted her importance as a precursor of the new figurations of the 1970s and of studies and discourses surrounding gender.

Anchored in the representation of the sexed body, manipulated, superimposed and fragmented in rigorous formal compositions, Maria José Aguiar's painting manifests a brutal erotic drive. The work also expresses a political conviction against a moralising and subjugated vision of women inherent in the representation of their bodies and desires, using the explicit representation of sex and genitalia as a critical symbolic vocabulary. The central role given to the penis progressively hollows it out into a formal visual code, giving rise to fun caricature-like graphic and ornamental patterns that are developed and repeated in pure flat colours and dynamic compositions. Her ironic, disobedient work flies in the face of the deeply conservative, clerical and patriarchal environment in which it is developed, yet it is also critical of the history of art, repeatedly citing and erasing some of its dominant male practitioners.

Ana Vidigal is an obsessive collector of inherited materials "lost and found" in houses, attics, shops and fairs; of objects with a history the artist knows, but never reveals in her work. This is the basis of her archive of the world, an image-based and technical inventory that is the foundational broth from which she develops manual studio work that is at once rigorously disciplined by thought.

She compiles foreign and domestic magazines from the 1960s and 70s, comic strips, photo comics, needlework albums, embroidery hoops, crochet patterns, children's books, images relating to fashion and cinema, dolls, letters, stamps, boxes and packages. This never ending accumulation of the sediment and spoils of everyday life is compulsively stored and eventually cut out and reconfigured into collage paintings in which, in all their diversity of format, texture, colour and technique, the act of gluing takes on a central and agglutinating role.

The titles of her works are suggestive, sometimes poetic or ironic clues that add to the reading of the work and to the small phrases she inscribes in them, invoking a deep subjectivity. They convey her interest in the "emotional damage" related to events that are either intimate or political, highlighting the tension between the feminine desire for autonomy and the place that society has reserved for her.

A self-taught visual artist born in the early 20th century, Ofélia Marques was a member of the Portuguese modernist movement, closely following its international developments alongside Bernardo Marques, a companion during a significant part of her career.

Essentially recognised for her work in painting, it was in drawing that her practice proved to be most innovative. She was a regular contributor to periodicals and illustrated books and was a pioneering creator of children's comic strips. It was, however, in her multiple deeply psychological self-portraits and in her series of portraits of friends, artists and writers imagined as caricatures of children that her work acquired a greater technical and reflective power. Her erotic work, only presented to the public posthumously, reveals a more transgressive, irreverent, cosmopolitan and experimentalist facet of her work. Ofélia Marques' intimate homoerotic scenes depicting females are captured variously in black and white compositions, in luminously expressive and contrasting works of colour, and in India ink, graphite, crayon, pastel and gouache. With a lushly sexualised ambience, these works reveal subtle and empathetic relationships of domination and subjugation, in which the presence of a cat appears perhaps as a metaphor.

Rosa Carvalho's work revisits classic paintings to re-read one of the genre's most recurrent themes: the representation of women and of the female body in art history. She combines landscape, religious, mythological, sublime and oneiric paintings with surrealist, mannerist, baroque and rocaille influences in an erudite, critical and ironic body of work.

In the series "Paisagens de Interior" [Interior Landscapes], Rosa Carvalho takes up iconic paintings presenting naked female figures in delicate and diaphanous poses by universally acclaimed masters such as Rembrandt, Boucher, Velásquez, David and Goya, rigorously, laboriously and faithfully re-staging these works with the exclusion of the female body, thus frustrating carnal desire and voyeuristic consumption. The liberation and removal of the central element of each painting gives the original model a life of her own, emancipating her as a woman. With a purpose and will beyond an availability to be passively gazed upon, she is thus finally “de-objectified”. The game of making an absence into a presence is similar to that of turning incarnation into disembodiment, a theme at once religious and related to genre – an operation that Rosa Carvalho subsequently takes even further in her hyper-realistic paintings of food, notably in Posta [Chop], in which painting literally becomes flesh.

As a self-taught artist Menez painted as she had learned: as part of a lone journey. Her work is a soliloquy, an enigmatic eternal conversation with herself that the observer can contemplate without ever truly deciphering.   

Her painting soon moves from abstraction to figuration, creating ambiances that constitute complex narratives in an abyss, spaces that demultiply into other spaces through the successive evocation of doors behind doors, or paintings within paintings. These spaces of reflection, introspection, reading and work (in particular her studio) are the epicentre and object of her painting. The pictorial construction of these settings is rigorous and programmatic, being established from a basis in abstract geometric grids that demarcate and organise planes, perspectives and volumes. The human figure, almost always female, solitary and melancholic, is introduced as a model, as a reflection in the mirror, or as the subject of the painting itself. The gesturality of the hands and faces represented deepens the theatricality and intimacy of the scenes, whose vanishing point is often found outside.

Menez's erudite and metaphysical painting evokes a numb dreamlike atmosphere, an interiority that is uniquely her own and that is shaped silently, in countless layers, gradations and tonal variations, by the diaphanous quality of colour and light.

Updated on 18 july 2022

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