The Oriente Metro station at Parque das Nações was opened in 1998 to coincide with the Expo ’98 (Lisbon International Exposition). As part of the international aspect of the Exposition, 11 renowned artists from various countries around the world were invited to create artworks for the walls of the underground station based on the subject ‘The Oceans, a legacy for the Future’, which was the theme of Expo ’98. Here are just three of the 11 works, which like all the contributions, are very different in terms of style and content, but all manage to address the subject of the sea.
The brightly-coloured tiled cityscape entitled ‘Submersão da Atlântida’ (‘Submersion of Atlantis’, 1998) by the Austrian Expressionist painter and architect Hundertwasser (Friedrich Stowasser, 1928-2000) is a huge mural depicting the mythical island of Atlantis that was said to have been submerged into the Atlantic Ocean. Atlantis is depicted as a large modern city of bright, bold-coloured skyscrapers against a black background, all leaning off-centre, which gives it another-worldly feeling. The angular shapes of the skyscrapers are broken up at regular intervals by large oval-shaped flying objects, suggesting a futuristic city rather than one of the past.
‘No Mar da Palha’ (‘On Mar da Palha’, 1998), by the Australian artist Arthur Boyd (1920-1999), is a large tile-panel seascape painting of the Mar da Palha water basin in the Tejo Estuary near Parque das Nações. In contrast to Hundertwasser’s bold colours, Boyd’s Impressionist painting is in soft shades of blue, white, brown, yellow and green, with just a tiny splash of bright red in the centre of the painting to suggest something on the water.
António Ségui (b.1934) is an Argentinean artist, whose work for Oriente station, ‘Os Oceanos’ (‘The Oceans’, 1998) straddles the two tiled end walls either side of the track. His very unique Satirical style consists of many overlapping repeated characters and objects, which although may appear to be the same, are all unique. One recurring character is a gentleman (or different gentlemen) wearing a suit and tie and a formal hat (a fedora, trilby or homburg), and there has been much speculation as to who this character is; is he an Everyman figure or even the artist himself? In the work for the Oriente Metro station the images in the painting are all connected to the sea, including manly-featured mermaids, divers, boats, lighthouses, fish and other sea creatures, all of which make the besuited men appear completely out of place and, as a result, give a sensation of them being comical or even sinister.
Marquês de Pombal Square in Lisbon is famous for the large statue of the eponymous hero who rebuilt Lisbon after it was destroyed in the earthquake of 1755 and I have written about Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, better known as the Marquis of Pombal (Marquês de Pombal), and the statue dedicated to him in another article, but many people don’t realise that the adjacent Metro station also celebrates his life and times. When the Marquês de Pombal Metro station was remodelled in 1995, a new section was built for the yellow line and the Portuguese artist Menez (Maria Inês Ribeiro da Fonseca, 1926-1995) was invited to decorate it. The resulting artwork lines the walls of the entrance hall. For this commission, Menez chose to recreate the style of the fashionable blue and white decorative tiles depicting scenes of daily life of the 18th century, to tell the story of Portuguese history during the lifetime of the Marquis of Pombal (1699-1782). The scenes are like a comic strip of the main events and people of the 18th century and depict images such as the earthquake, the Marquis of Pombal with his plans for the reconstruction of Lisbon; the architects and engineers who assisted him; King José I (who, during his reign from 1750-1777, was happy to let his Prime Minister, the Marquis of Pombal, run the country); and other episodes from the Age of Enlightenment, which in Portugal is associated with the Marquis and his liberal reforms, which included reforming education, the law, the army, agriculture, industry and trade and abolishing slavery.
Picoas Metro station is notable for two stylistically different, but equally impressive, works of art. One is incorporated into the station exterior at street level and the other lines the platforms of the station. Together they make Picoas one of the most endearing Metro stations in Lisbon.
As you enter the station at the entrance on Rua Andrade Corvo you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in Paris, as the decoration around the entrance is that of a stereotypical Paris Metro station, with decorative cast-iron railings and a distinctive ‘Metropolitano’ sign, in the Paris Metro Metropolitanes font, arching over the entrance. The design is based on that of early-20th century Paris Metro stations, which were created by the Art Nouveau architect and designer Hector Guimard (1867-1942), and it was donated to the Lisbon Metro by the Paris Metro in 1995.
The tiled panels that line the platforms of the station were added in 1994, when the station was remodelled. The 12 panels were created by the painter and sculptor Martins Correia (1910-1999) as an homage to the city of Lisbon. The large abstract images in black and white with splashes of colour depict aspects of the city, including the coat of arms and architectural features. But it is the images of the working-class women of Lisbon that are the most striking, in particular, the tall, dignified black silhouettes of the traditional female fish vendors (varinas) with baskets of fish (canastras) on their heads, to which Correia masterfully adds bold splashes of colour, bringing a joyfulness to the scenes.
When the Jardim Zoológico Metro station in Lisbon was expanded in 1995, the Portuguese artist Júlio Resende (1917-2011) was invited to decorate the walls of the platforms. He was inspired by the nearby Lisbon Zoo (Jardim Zoológico de Lisboa) to create large-scale hand-painted murals on the glazed tiles, depicting exotic animals and plants in tones of blue, green and yellow, so that the traveller is immersed in a lush Expressionist-style tropical forest.
The Siege of Lisbon (also known as the Conquest of Lisbon), which took place in 1147, is a significant event in Portuguese history. That year the newly crowned King Afonso I of Portugal formed an army made up of Crusaders from Northern Europe to overthrow the Moorish presence in Lisbon, promising them the spoil. Despite the attacks on St George’s castle, which enclosed the Moorish city, the Moors held King Afonso’s army off for four months, but eventually the Christian army gained entry, overpowering the Moors, and then going on to ransack the city and murder anyone who got in their way. There is a legend that a knight called Martim Moniz, who was fighting in King Afonso’s army, lay down in the doorway so that the Moors couldn’t shut it, thus allowing the Christian army to enter. Despite being badly injured, the legend goes on to say that he got up and continued fighting until he finally died of his injuries. He is considered a hero in Lisbon and there is a small bust of him on a wall in the castle and he even has a square and the adjacent Metro station named after him in Lisbon.
In the Metro station the story of the Siege of Lisbon is told on the walls of the platforms through stylised minimalist cartoon-like characters created in marble by the sculptor José João Brito (b.1941) in 1997. Characters include two horses; the two bishops, D. João Peculiar (who successfully negotiated with the King of León and Castile for Portuguese independence in 1143) and D. Pedro Pitões (who persuaded the Crusaders to join King Afonso I in his attack on Lisbon); Crusaders, represented by Hervey de Glanvill (the leader of the Crusaders) and Simon of Dover (the leader of the Anglo-Norman forces); D. Afonso Henriques (King Afonso I of Portugal); and, of course, Martim Moniz, shown throwing himself between the doors.
As travellers leave Restauradores Metro station at the Avenida da Liberdade exit they come face-to-face with a large colourful tiled mural by the Brazilian artist Luiz Ventura (b. 1930) called ‘Brasil-Portugal: 500 anos – A Chegança’ (which roughly translates to ‘Brazil-Portugal: 500 years – The Historical Folk Play’). It was completed in 1994 and added to the station to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Pedro Álvares Cabral’s discovery of Brazil in 1500. It is a depiction of a symbolic reenactment of the Portuguese explorers landing in Brazil and comments on the impact of the Age of Discovery. The Portuguese colonialists are shown aboard a caravel wearing expensive clothes and holding the navigational tools associated with the 15th– and 16th-century explorations, including a map, a compass and an armillary sphere, as well as one holding a book and pen and another, a soldier, holding a spear. They represent science, culture and military power. Also on board the caravel is a man in religious robes holding an open Bible and looking up to Heaven, representing the Catholic religion that the Portuguese brought to Brazil. Beside him is an angel and in front of her is a devil, symbolizing good and evil. In front of the devil is a chest containing chains and restraints, which disturbingly reminds us of the slave trade. On the left-hand side of the mural, outside of the caravel, are exotic fruits, flowers, plants, a bird, decorative pots and a mask, all representing the differences between the newly discovered Brazil and the old world Portugal. In the background is a caravel sailing towards the Brazilian coast, about to bring major changes to the indigenous societies. Look closely and you will see a ghostly figure on the far left of the group of Portuguese explorers, giving rise to a sense of uneasiness and foreboding.
Travellers using the Metro station at Cais do Sodré are greeted by a series of floor-to-ceiling-high rabbits painted in blue on the white tiles. On one wall the rabbits are running towards the trains and on the other they are running towards the exit. The rabbits, all wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch, are based on the John Tenniel illustration of the White Rabbit character from the children’s novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865), who famously runs down the rabbit hole saying, ‘Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!’ The paintings were done by Pedro Morais (1944-2018) in 1998 when the Metro station first opened, but they were based on sketches that the Surrealist painter António Dacosta (1914-1990) had done for the station before he died. The White Rabbit seems very a fitting image for a busy commuter station, where, like Alice, we follow him down the rabbit hole into the bowels of the station!
The Lisbon Metro was extended as far as the airport in 2012 when an additional section was added to the red line, finally offering a quick and easy link between the airport and the centre of Lisbon. The artwork on the walls of this station, which was added at the same time, shows caricatures of 50 famous Portuguese men and woman from the late-nineteenth century to the present day, ranging from the worlds of literature, art, music and film to science, politics and sport. Most are unknown outside of Portugal, but they are there as familiar faces to welcome returning Portuguese travellers and also to introduce themselves to curious tourists. The caricatures, which are made of white and black stone, were created by the cartoonist António Antunes and depict: Francisco Sá Carneiro (politician (Social Democratic Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1934-1980), Álvaro Cunhal (Communist politician who fought against the Dictatorship, 1913-2005), Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (artist and ceramicist, depicted with his most famous creation, Zé Povinho, 1846-1905), Carlos Lopes (former long-distance runner, b. 1947), Paula Rego (artist, b. 1935), Mário Cesariny (surrealist poet, 1923-2006), Duarte Pacheco (engineer and politician who is associated with a number of public works, 1900-1943),
Aquilino Ribeiro (writer, 1885-1963), Júlio Pomar (artist, 1926-2018), Luís de Freitas Branco (composer, 1890-1955), Maria Helena Vieira da Silva (Abstract Expressionist artist, 1908-1992), Maria João Pires (pianist, b. 1944), Virgílio Ferreira (Existentialist writer, 1916-1996), Amália Rodrigues (Fado singer, 1920-1999),
Raul Solnado (comedian, 1929-2009), João Villaret (actor, 1913-1961), António Silva (actor, 1886-1971), Vasco Santana (actor, 1898-1958), Beatriz Costa (actress, 1907-1996), António Sérgio (philosopher, 1883-1969), José Saramago (Nobel Prize-winning writer, 1922-2010), António Egas Moniz (Nobel Prize-winning neurologist, 1874-1955), António Lobo Antunes(writer, b. 1942), Stuart Carvalhais (artist, 1887-1961), Amadeo Souza-Cardoso (artist, 1887-1918), Fernando Pessoa (writer, 1888-1935), Columbano Bordalo Pinheiro (artist, 1857-1929), José Cardoso Pires (writer, 1925-1998), Alexandre O’Neil (Surrealist poet, 1924-1986), Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen (poet, 1919-2004), Fernando Lopes-Graça (composer and conductor, 1906-1994), Cassiano Branco (architect, 1897-1970), Porfírio Pardal Monteiro (architect, 1897-1957), David Mourão-Ferreira (writer, 1927-1996), Leopoldo de Almeida (sculptor, 1898-1975), José de Almada Negreiros (Modernist artist and writer, 1893-1970), Carlos Gago Coutinho (1869-1959) and Artur Sacadura Cabral (1881-1924) (aviators who made the first aerial crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922), Natália Correira (writer, 1923-1993), José Viana da Motta (pianist and composer, 1868-1948), Ferreira de Castro (writer, 1898-1974), Calouste Gulbenkian (businessman and philanthropist, he created the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, 1869-1955), Agostinho da Silva (philosopher, 1906-1994),
Eusébio da Silva Ferreira (football player, 1942-2014), Diogo Freitas do Amaral (politician (Social Democratic Centre Party) and former Prime Minister of Portugal, 1941-2019), Eça de Queiroz (writer, 1845-1900), and Mário Soares (politician (Socialist Party) and former Prime Minister and President of Portugal, 1924-2017).
Paula Rego is unarguably the most famous Portuguese artist outside of Portugal, particularly in the United Kingdom where she has mainly lived since 1951. She was born in Lisbon in 1935 and grew up in a wealthy family during the years of the dictatorship. Her father was a liberal and Anglophile who decided to send her to England to attend a finishing school and in 1952 to the Slade School of Art, where she studied under Lucian Freud and L.S. Lowry, among others. It was here she met her future husband, the artist Victor Willing (1928-88), with whom she divided her time between Ericeira in Portugal (a coastal town north-west of Lisbon) and London in the 1950s, ’60s and early ’70s before permanently settling in London.
Her early works were overtly political in theme, criticizing the rightwing dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, and throughout the 1960s she created a number of, often impenetrable, works in which she experimented with collage and mixed media. In the surrealist painting entitled Salazar Vomiting the Homeland (1960) the dictator is depicted as a shape on the left of the picture being sick while in the centre of the painting is another shape of a woman made up of what appears to be pubic hair and holding a shield. The equally abstract triptych, When we had a house in the country we’d throw marvellous parties and then we’d go out and shoot negroes (1961), is a satirical reaction to Portuguese colonialism during the dictatorship and depicts a party scene in a white colonial house while outside white soldiers are killing the indigenous people as much for sport as for war. Using cut-out paper stuck on a blue background Regicide (1965) conveys the chaos that ensued during the assassination of the Portuguese King Carlos I and his eldest son, who were shot as they rode through the Praça do Comércio in Lisbon in a carriage in 1908. The carriage is the most recognisable item in the confusion. The Firemen of Alijo (1966) is an abstract reaction, using collaged fragments from other drawings stuck on a deep red background, to the extreme poverty Rego witnessed in northern Portugal one very cold winter, including seeing a group of firemen standing barefoot in the snow. In the picture she depicts characters comprised of human and animal body parts. Surprisingly, many of these controversial works were shown in an exhibition in Lisbon in 1965.
In 1998 Rego created a socially and politically motivated serious of paintings and drawings around the theme of abortion. These works came after Portugal had held a referendum about whether to legalize abortion or not in which people had not gone out to vote and so abortion remained illegal. Rego, who openly admits to having had abortions herself during her time at the Slade, as well as witnessing the desperate circumstances of poor women in Ericeira in the 1950s and 1960s, who would beg for money to have backstreet abortions, wanted to make people aware of the reality of abortion and made etchings of the paintings and drawings so that they could be shown throughout the country and seen by people who wouldn’t normally see art. In the paintings and drawings Rego deliberately avoided showing blood and gore, but instead focused on the complex emotional impact on the women; in each work there is a solitary woman shown in a room of a house during or just after a backstreet abortion; some of the woman have a look of pain while others look numb and other defiant. A second referendum was held in 2007 and in the lead up to the referendum the etchings appeared in some newspapers. This time the referendum was successful and abortion was finally legalized.
In 2009 Rego took on another taboo theme, that of female genital mutilation, creating nightmarish etchings with aquatint which depict monster-like women performing acts of violence on girls, such as Mother Loves You (2009), where the perpetrator is shown with jaw-like genitals with sharp teeth and Night Bride (2009) where two women hold the girl down while another is about to violate her.
Rego created War (2003) after seeing a photograph of a girl in a white dress running away from an exploding bomb in Basra, Iraq. The picture, done in pastel, contains violent images including the central image of a human figure with a rabbit’s head wearing a blue dress carrying a smaller figure wearing a pink dress, whose head is that of a rabbit covered in blood. In the foreground is a stork about to pierce the neck of another rabbit dressed in a pink girl’s dress and there is a miniature woman in a soldier’s uniform holding a stick, while in the background is a dog fighting an ant of the same size. This painting embodies a lot of the themes and imagery that Rego has used throughout her career.
In contrast to the political works, Rego’s art is often personal, with scenes based on memories from her childhood or aspects of her adult life. It is not surprising to learn that she has been having Jungian psychoanalysis since 1973 and based on the idea that images from childhood are deeply buried in the subconscious she uses stories to access these images and make sense of the world. The surrealist Self-portrait in Red (1962) (shown above) contains autobiographical elements far removed from traditional self-portraits. The background is bright red with a collage of fragmented images painted or glued on, including a figure of a young girl in the centre surrounded by images of grotesque children’s story-like characters. The very personal Depression Series (2007) was created during a bout of severe depression that Rego suffered in 2007 and the works were finally put on public display in 2017. Done largely in black pastel, they are a powerful and frank depiction of the darkness of depression and, as with the abortion and female genital mutilation series, Rego hopes to make the public aware of the issue and remove the stigma of depression.
A dominant, recurring theme in Rego’s work is family relationships. These works depict scenes heavy with symbolism that leave a sense of unease and conflicting emotions. She painted two of her most significant works in the late eighties, The Maids (1987) and The Family (1988). In her later works she uses a more figurative style in which women are often portrayed with manly features and the themes of domination, sexuality, fear and grief recur. The Maids is based on a play, Les Bonnes (The Maids, 1947) by Jean Genet, in which the maids murder their mistress. Rego’s painting sets the scene in a mid-twentieth century Portuguese middle-class bedroom laden with symbolic imagery, where the maids’ actions are ambiguous, but give rise to a sense of menace. In the unsettling painting entitled The Family, painted as Willing was dying, the mannequin-like man is seated on the bed being dressed, undressed or even sexually abused by two of the three females in the room. The characters are distorted and complex emotions, ranging from tenderness to anger, are suggested.
Rego has described herself as a ‘feminist’ artist and in her art she is not afraid to reveal the female condition through her female central characters. They are often depicted as large women with male features, as in the female painter in Joseph’s Dream (1990), a painting which reverses the traditional role of male painter and reclining female model; the central figure of The Cake Woman (2004); and Dancing Ostriches (1995), in which, influenced by Walt Disney’s animal dance sequence in Fantasia, Rego portrays stocky women in black tutus attempting balletic poses. She often uses the same sitter, Lila Nunes, as her model.
Other female characters, painted as glamorous women in fashionable clothes and with expensive hairstyles, are based on the middle-class women Rego remembers from her childhood and they represent the wicked mother or step-mother who is trying to arrange a suitable marriage for her daughter, as in Snow White and her Stepmother (1995), where the daughter is subjected to the humiliation of the stepmother removing the girl’s knickers, presumably in preparation for marriage. In 1999 she painted a series inspired by Hogarth’s mid-18th century depiction of an arranged marriage, ‘Marriage à la Mode’, but relocated it to a 1940s or ’50s middle-class Portuguese setting. Rego’s work is divided into three parts, The Betrothal, in which two well-dressed women plan the marriage of their respective children; Lessons, showing the mother, sitting under a hairdryer in a beauty salon, giving her daughter (still a child) lessons in marriage; and The Shipwreck, which shows the married couple years later living in obvious poverty with the wife holding the enfeebled husband on her lap.
In the 1980s she began to use anthropomorphic animals in her paintings, which allowed her to convey parts of her private life. In the ‘Red Monkey’ series she reveals the complications of her marriage through the characters of a monkey (representing Willing), a bear (representing the writer and close friend of Rego, Rudolf Nassauer) and a dog (representing Rego), such as in Red Monkey Offers Bear a Poisoned Dove (1981) and Wife Cuts of Red Monkey’s Tail (1981). Later in the decade she began the ‘Girl and Dog’ series, which was done around the time Willing was ill with multiple sclerosis and in which he is depicted as a dog being cared for or threatened, such as Two Girls and a Dog (1987).
In the 1990s she began the ‘Dog Women’ series, in which she depicted women in dog-like poses, although she had been using this dog imagery since her time at the Slade School, for example, Dog Woman (1952). The ‘Dog Woman’ series, done in chalk pastels, represents the relationship of animal and master, where women are depicted in dog-like poses. In Bride (1994), the frame is dominated by a reclining woman dressed in a beautiful white silk wedding dress who is looking directly at the viewer as if to ask them to rub her tummy, while in Lush (1994) and Sleeper (1994) a sleeping female figure dominates the frame. There is an intimacy to the portrayal of the woman in Lush, who is dressed in a petticoat and is sleeping with her legs apart, while in Sleeper there is an ambiguity to whether the way the woman is sleeping (lying on a man’s jacket) is a sign of loyalty to her master or a punishment. Sit (1994) is a more unsettling picture, as the pregnant woman is shown seated in an armchair with her arms behind her, her feet crossed uncomfortably and her head turned at an awkward angle.
Many of Rego’s works are reinterpretations of myths, works of literature and children’s stories. In 1989 (during which time (1989-1990) she was Associate Artist at the National Gallery in London) Rego created a series of etchings with aquatint in which she subverted the seemingly innocent subject matter of nursery rhymes and created something much darker, such as in Polly Put the Kettle On (1989), where two women, who fill the space of the etching, serve tea to a group of doll-like soldiers.
In 1997 she created a series of paintings inspired by the famous Portuguese novel by Eça de Queiros, O Crime do Padre Amaro (The Crime of Father Amaro, 1875) which tells the story of a priest who falls in love with the daughter of his landlady. Ideas inspired by the novel, rather than depictions of scenes, include The Cell (1997), in which Father Amaro lies on a campbed under which is a figure of the Virgin Mary and over which he appears to be masturbating; The Company of Women (1997), which conveys a memory Father Amaro has of being cosseted as a boy by the housemaids, but here he is shown as a man and the adoration of the women takes on a sexual tone as Amaro looks knowingly out at the viewer; and one of Rego’s most famous paintings, Angel (1998), in which Rego creates an avenging angel holding a sponge in one hand and a sword in the other to exact retribution for the death of one of the characters.
In 2001-2 she created a series of unorthodox lithographs, with sexual subtext, based on another classic 19th-century novel, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847), six of which were turned into British postage stamps in 2005.
Rego’s work often disturbs or shocks whether as political and social comment or through her inward-looking and autobiographical content, but throughout there is always a sense of defiance. Highly respected in Portugal and the United Kingdom, she received the Grã-Cruz da Ordem Militar de Sant’Iago (Grand Cross of the Military Order of Saint James of the Sword) from the President of Portugal in 2004 and was made a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 2010 for her services to art. Many of her paintings, etchings and drawings, along with paintings by Victor Willing, are now permanently housed in the Casa das Histórias Paula Rego in Cascais, which opened in 2009. The collection is housed in a distinctive red building with twin pyramid-shaped towers designed by Eduardo Souto de Moura.
Casa das Histórias Paula Rego, Avenida da República, Cascais. Open Tuesday to Sunday 10am-6pm. Entrance: €5.
Joana Vasconcelos (born in 1971) is one of Portugal’s best-known contemporary artists and is widely exhibited internationally as well as within Portugal. You may not know her name, but it is likely that you have seen some of her art, as it is hard to miss! She takes everyday objects and transforms them into something else in a surprising, funny or shocking way. Her most famous work is A Noiva (The Bride, 2001-2005) which put her on the international scene in 2005 when she exhibited it in the 51st Venice Biennale. It is an enormous five-metre high white chandelier that goes from ceiling to floor over two floors and from a distance it looks like it is made up of thousands of white beads, but close up I was shocked to see that it is made entirely of tampons.
Other commonplace objects that she has used include green wine bottles which she has used to create two giant candlesticks in Néctar (Nectar, 2006). I have seen this on display in the Buddha Eden sculpture park in Bombarral and in the formal garden of the Serralves Park in Porto and in both settings they were graceful structures that looked like they belonged in the beautiful grounds.
Another sculpture where functional objects are used to create something surprisingly elegant is the seven-metre high engagement ring called Solitário (Solitaire, 2018) which is made up of gold-coloured alloy wheels with a diamond on the top created from crystal whisky glasses. (It’s not surprising to learn that Vasconcelos studied jewellery design as part of her art course at the Centro de Arte e Comunicação in Lisbon.) The ring merges seamlessly the stereotype of what men and women are seen to desire (fast cars and whiskey for men and a diamond ring for women).
I’ll Be Your Mirror (2018-20) is another elegant work made up of oval mirrors, many with Baroque-frames. The mirrors are arranged into the shape of a carnival mask, symbolizing how we disguise our true selves and how that image is reflected back at us.
The two giant silver stilettos in the work named Marilyn (2011) caught my eye from a long way away and made me laugh when I realised they were made of saucepans and saucepan lids! There is a clear feminist message in this work, where the symbol of a woman’s domestic role (the saucepan) is used to create the symbol of artificial beauty (the stiletto): both of which could been seen as images of women’s oppression.
On a lighter note, Tutti Frutti (2019) is an unsubtle comment on excess, represented by a huge ice-cream cone made of hollow plastic moulds in the shape of croissants, apples, pears, strawberries and blackberries.
In contrast, a slightly disturbing work is Call Centre (2014-16) in which 168 black dial telephones are arranged into the shape of a pistol, a symbol of masculinity and power interconnected with a means of communication. The accompanying symphony of ringing phones composed by Jonas Runa adds to the unsettling sensation.
My favourite work of Joana Vasconcelos has to be the large-scale teapot with its intricate wrought ironwork, Casa de Chá (Tea House, 2015), which I discovered unexpectedly in the grounds of Portugal dos Pequenitos in Coimbra. On a similar theme is the equally intricate Pavillon de Vin (Wine Pavillion, 2016), which has vines growing around the wrought iron wine jug.
Portuguese crafts, traditions and recognisable symbols recur in Vasconcelos’ work ranging from the Barcelos cock depicted playfully in the Pop Galo (Pop Cock, 2016), an enoromous version of the famous cock decorated with Portuguese tiles, and the Viana heart recreated in Red Independent Heart (2013), a three-metre high revolving heart made of red plastic cutlery that is accompanied by the Fado songs of Amália Rodrigues, to smaller works that include traditional crochet, including three animal heads (Conselheiro (Advisor, 2014), Mustang (2014), Destemido (Fearless, 2019)), based on ceramics created by the 19th-century Portuguese ceramicist Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro, and a statue of Diana (2020), the Roman goddess of hunting, all enclosed by delicate crochet. In Big Booby (2018) a common-place Portuguese crocheted potholder is enlarged and made into an abstract object. In Love in a Box (2015) traditional Portuguese Viúva Lamego tiles and crochet are combined to make an artistic joke; ‘love’ literally is in the box.
One of Vasconcelos’ most ambitious works is Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi (2014), an expansive piece that fills an entire room in any art gallery. Based on the female characters from Norse mythology who decide which soldiers would live or die during a battle, the Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi is given a modern twist by being dressed in various colourful fabrics and named after a clothing store for curvaceous women.
Another work on a grand scale is Finisterra (2018), which is a 3D version of an abstract painting in which the pattern is made of fabric-covered pillows in a frame. Unlike the traditional static paintings which it refers to, this one is literally bursting out of the frame.
In contrast the final work that I am including from a vast and varied catalogue doesn’t have the intricacy of Vasconcelos’ other works, but is unmissable wherever it is positioned; it is a full-size swimming pool in the shape of the outline of Portugal and named Portugal a Banhos (Portugal Swimming, 2010). When I first saw it it was placed upright on a roundabout outside the grounds of the Serralves Park and I initially thought it was an advertisement for a swimming pool supplier, until I realised what the shape of the pool was and, like most of her work, it left me with a smile on my face.