The exhibition All That I Want – Portuguese Female Artists from 1900 to 2020, which is part of the cultural programme for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, has now opened to the public at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.
Featuring works of art from the early 20th century to today and including a range of types of works (from painting to sculpture, drawing, objects, books, tiles, installations, film and video), the exhibition explores how, in a world that was/is predominantly male, women went from muses to creators.
The self-portrait by Aurélia de Sousa, painted in 1900, symbolically ushered in a new attitude – no longer one of reservation and introspection, but now an exercise in observing and widening the female point of view to the world.
This iconic work constitutes the starting point for reflection that follows a number of different paths, all revealing a desire for affirmation: the gaze, the body (the own body, the body of others, the political body), the space and how it is occupied (the house, nature, the atelier), the way in which disciplinary boundaries are crossed (painting and sculpture, but also video, performance and sound) and the determination with which they headed towards the utopia of a transformative construction, one that transformed both them and their surroundings.
Regardless of artistic choices, sensibilities and strategies, the common denominator for all these artists is the unique way they managed to make themselves heard, some of them having achieved remarkable and surprising international affirmation both in terms of their presence in museums and institutions and in terms of the market and critical reception.
One such case is Maria Helena Vieira da Silva, the first woman to receive the Grand Prix National des Arts, an award set up by the French government; then there is also Paula Rego, Helena Almeida, Lourdes Castro, Ana Vieira and Joana Vasconcelos, who have been widely celebrated and acclaimed by their international peers and have managed to overcome the difficult conditions for working and affirmation that Portugal has given them.
The show’s title, All That I Want – Portuguese Female Artists from 1900 to 2020, takes its inspiration from Lou Andreas-Salomé, a woman author responsible for one of the most noteworthy reflections on the place of women in the social, intellectual, sexual and amorous space in recent centuries. It shows the selected artists in a spirit of subtlety, affirmation and power.
On the exhibition
The exhibition is divided into several core groups of works that lead the visitor through multiple narratives: Starting Point; the Place of the Artist; Plural Femininity; The Gaze; The Word; The Space of Writing; Construction; Le Vivant; The House; The Political; Collective Memories; Vernacular Everyday Life; Theatre of the Body; and Listen to Me.
These courses allow one to follow the thematic diversity of the artists and the ways in which their creative universes contributed to the aesthetic/artistic debates of the 20th century and to the discussion of a number of issues that have emerged in contemporaneity, such as civil rights, the notion of crisis, ecology, identity and post-colonialism.
Well into the 21st century, nothing is consolidated as far as gender equality is concerned. These works are examples of a long collective struggle for the right for a full artistic existence.
Taking this as a cue, the exhibition contributes to underlining the importance of strengthening the European social model, one of the central priorities for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the realisation of which also includes the combat against inequalities and the valorisation of the female artist.
“Increasing the visibility of women in the cultural and creative sector”
The Portuguese Minister of Culture, Graça Fonseca, who has been a key supporter of this initiative, highlights the importance of “increasing the visibility of women in the cultural and creative sector, which is one of the political priorities for the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the EU, by promoting equality of representation for works by female artists in exhibitions, museums, galleries, theatres, festival and concerts. This is the only way we can move away from strict, gender-defined roles towards a society that is fairer for all”.
Isabel Mota, president of the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, argues that “in addition to helping to right some of the injustices that took place in the past in this country, this exhibition seeks to understand the prominent role female Portuguese artists took on in the latter half of the 20th century, particularly at the international level. Many of them had a long-standing connection to the Foundation, with scholarships in Portugal and in cities such as Paris, London and Munich”.
Noting that “the attention these female artists have garnered beyond Portugal’s borders is rooted in their themes and areas of interest, such as female representation, the self-portrait, the female condition, war, want, colonialism, post-colonialism and nature”, the Foundation’s president is very pleased with this project which will “introduce to the domestic and international public the wealth and diversity of the work of a formidable group of Portuguese female artists”.
Curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand, this exhibition is a Ministry of Culture initiative, with the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation being responsible for the curatorial project.
The exhibition will also be presented at the Centre de Création Contemporaine Olivier Debré in Tours in 2022, as part of the general programme for the France-Portugal Season.
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.
ALL THAT I WANT – Portuguese Female Artists 1900 to 2020
Curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand
Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation
Headquarter Building – Main Gallery
Temporary Exhibition Room
2 June – 23 August 2021
Opening times: 10 am to 6 pm