Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020
Important figures like Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Lourdes Castro, Paula Rego, Ana Vieira, Salette Tavares, Helena Almeida, Joana Vasconcelos, Maria José Oliveira, Fernanda Fragateiro, Sónia Almeida and Grada Kilomba, among many others, are represented in this exhibition, which includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, objects, books, installations, film and video, offering a wide perspective of each of their artistic realms.
Aurélia de Sousa’s iconic self-portrait, painted in 1900, is the starting point for a reflection about a context of creation that, for centuries, was almost exclusively dominated by men. The exhibition reveals the will of these women artists to assert themselves in the face of the dominant consecration systems: the look, the body (their body, the body of others, the political body), the space and the way they occupy it (the house, nature, the atelier), the way they cross disciplinary boundaries (painting and sculpture, but also video, performance, sound) or the determination with which they advance in their utopia of a transformative construction, of themselves and of everything around them.
The title of the exhibition, All I want – Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020, is inspired by Lou Andreas-Salomé, an author who developed one of the most notable reflections on the role of women in the social, intellectual, sexual and loving space of the past centuries, thus placing these artists closer to a spirit of subtlety, affirmation and power. Against all obstacles, these artists of different generations and sensibilities have earned their place, due to the strength and quality of their artistic proposals. Celebrating this achievement requires resisting the illustrative approach suggested by a representation that is generic (women artists) and national (Portuguese). But it also reminds us that, in the 21st century, nothing is consolidated as far as gender equality is concerned and that these works are elements of a long collective effort for the right to full artistic existence.
Curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand on behalf of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, this exhibition is joint initiative with the Ministry of Culture and will also be presented at the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré in Tours, as part of the programme of Temporada Cruzada Portugal-França.
Aurélia de Sousa, Mily Possoz, Rosa Ramalho, Maria Lamas, Sarah Affonso, Ofélia Marques, Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, Maria Keil, Salette Tavares, Menez, Ana Hatherly, Lourdes Castro, Helena Almeida, Paula Rego, Maria Antónia Siza, Ana Vieira, Maria José Oliveira, Clara Menéres, Graça Morais, Maria José Aguiar, Luísa Cunha, Rosa Carvalho, Ana Léon, Ângela Ferreira, Joana Rosa, Ana Vidigal, Armanda Duarte, Fernanda Fragateiro, Patrícia Garrido, Gabriela Albergaria, Susanne Themlitz, Grada Kilomba, Maria Capelo, Patrícia Almeida, Joana Vasconcelos, Carla Filipe, Filipa César, Inês Botelho, Isabel Carvalho, Sónia Almeida.
This exhibition opens with an encounter between two artists who, though a century apart, both examine the place of women in art history through approaches and styles that might be thought of as diametrically opposed – a play between presence and absence, recurrent in the strategies of many other artists.
Aurélia de Sousa questions and challenges us through obsessive self-representation, whereas Rosa Carvalho removes the female model from rigorous copies of historical paintings (Danae, by Rembrandt, 1636-1647; L’Odalisque blonde, by François Boucher, 1751; Portrait de madame Récamier, by Jacques-Louis David, 1800), emptying the image and sabotaging the latent male desire and voyeurism of the originals.
At the entrance, Armanda Duarte questions the place, time and identity of the work of art taken as a body (cabeça, tronco e membros [head, torso, and limbs]), a body that is also a measure – the artist’s height – to be sanded and transformed into dust in a performative action that takes place over the days of the exhibition.
In a confrontation between subtlety and provocation, artists from different generations approach the feminine in closed contexts or in its relationship with the Other.
This section of the exhibition brings together the delicate urban fictions of Mily Possoz, Ofélia Marques’ flirtatious play in the modernist theme of "les deux amies", the grotesque violence in the figures by Maria Antónia Siza, and the sexual provocation of Patrícia Garrido’s sculptures and Maria José Aguiar’s paintings as instances of the irrepressible tensions between eros (love/life) and thanatos (death).
This series of works is punctuated by two pieces by Ana Vidigal that highlight the tension between the drive for female autonomy and freedom, and the place to which women are consigned by society, using imagery from women's magazines Vidigal has kept from her childhood.
The central body of all the works gathered on this floor, this section brings together issues that are germane to the entire exhibition.
Aurélia de Sousa's 1900 Self-Portrait, the earliest of all the works exhibited, signals a first historical moment of the female authorial stance. Through her assertive, outwardly directed gaze, Aurélia affirms the passage of women's place in art from muse to author.
The encounter of this founding gaze with La Scala ou Les Yeux, by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, creates a fundamental, symbolic and irradiating tension between authorial singularity and the modern kaleidoscopic vision. These sophisticated paintings are juxtaposed with a group of ceramics by Rosa Ramalho. Popular and grotesque in nature, Ramalho's works intuitively meld the utilitarian with the decorative, masculine with feminine, human with animal, Catholicism with paganism.
If Susanne Themlitz' derisory sculptures update this universe by reminding us of the contemporary awareness of the body as a composite and fragmentary entity, Ana León tests the limits of the metamorphoses rehearsed by all these pieces through a film in which animated figures merge and fuse together, at times disappearing into formless matter.
The theme of the gaze is further explored in this section. In the self-portraits of Sarah Affonso and Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, everything starts from the mirror and the image it offers back to the artists who look at it, recognising and inventing themselves in this act of looking.
The mirror not only fixes their image but provides a conduit to the artists' broader surroundings: their domestic space, their intimacy and sharing, but also their peers, such as the male artist colleagues that Affonso has portrayed, inverting the usual direction of the gaze in art.
A surface of reflections, the mirror is also a place of passage, a portal to the other side, to the world of fantasy, myth, and death, so masterfully present in Vieira da Silva's works.
Finally, the mirror can be the essential instrument for the metaphorical construction of the self, as in the work of Maria José Oliveira, who uses it to imagine her body as an anodyne mass topped by a heart.
We are invited into this section by a drawing by Maria Helena Vieira da Silva.
In using writing in a visual dimension, the artists conquer another territory that was systematically denied to them. This conquest occurs at the level of meaning, but also marks a spatial, symbolic and intellectual triumph.
Ana Hatherly's writings merge echoes of political revolution (with references to Portugal's Carnation Revolution of 1974) with notions of liberating writing and words from meaning altogether. We witness this crossing of boundaries between writing, drawing, collage and painting once again in the work of Vieira da Silva and Lourdes de Castro.
In the work of Salette Tavares, letters and words reacquire meaning, but also become games and linguistic traps. Inês Botelho traces out a perfect symbolic gesture on the floor, while Luísa Cunha occupies the space using an ostensibly delicate vocative (Senhora! – "Madam!") which takes on an impertinent tone through repetition.