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portuguese artist: joana vasconcelos

This country harbours more than its fair share of interesting artists who, praise be, nurture the Portuguese identity and therefore embellish it further with their own talent and perspective.


Coração Independente Dourado, 2004. Original Image ©DMF Lisbon

Joana Vasconcelos is one such artist, and she’s arguably the most prominent of Portugal’s contemporary artists. Deservedly so. Her work is brainy and charming. It is Pop and it’s also commentary. It’s new and it’s old. Her art is like a good woman: sexy and brilliant.

Joana Vasconcelos burst upon the international art world at the Venice Biennale in 2005. I’m hardly what you’d call a follower, but I was aware of this fabulous bit of creativity, wit and craft when it appeared, as probably many of you were too.


A Noiva 2001-2005. Original image @David Luciano/Museu Colecçao Berardo/DMF Lisbon

A photo doesn’t do it justice: an enormous chandelier of great elegance, richesse and exclusivity. Made of tampons.

Joana packages the terrifying complexity, chaos and violence of feminism (ha-ha) into a pretty box with a ribbon. It’s such a clever idea in so many ways but I like particularly just how close you have to get to the work before you see what it is. There’s a subversiveness in that transforming moment that no doubt explains why the international art scene was so turned on. This gorgeous work has a dirty little secret. Or does it suggest to you a purity and delicateness, as its name, “The Bride”, implies?

And I also imagine that while the Venice Biennale is a formidable event for showcasing what the human is capable of, it would also attract a bunch of wildly wealthy pretentious halfwits who would stand ogling at this great wonder of banality. And there it is: Ordinary/ Glamour.

And here it is again:


Marilyn 2009. Original image ©DMF Lisbon

There’s tyranny in both the wide angle and the close-up. The stiletto: She is made of pots and pans… she is domestic, she is a servant, fashion’s slave.

What is so Portuguese about that? Let us speak of frogs and lace. Noting the artist’s date of birth I wonder if this thing we have for Rafael Bordallo Pinheiro is age-related. Or Joana might just be paying homage to the original Portuguese Pop Artist, or perhaps to Portuguese culture and history. But why wrap Rafael’s funky ceramic creatures with lace?


Bowie, 2009. Original image ©DMF Lisbon

This is Portugalia run amok. The lace, a humble homely product made by the hands of rural women for centuries, is an unsung craftwork of skill and finesse, of authenticity and originality. It is the essence of artistic. In Joana’s hands the ordinary is made worthy, like Rafael’s cabbages gracing the tables of the bourgeoisie. Lace, in this case commissioned from actual country women’s crocheting groups, stitching together in their pinafores and widow’s black. So very far away from the Biennale de Venezia or the galleries of Soho.

Thanks very much to Joana Vasconcelos for the use of the images.





  1. JOFFREY RAPOSO April 30, 2011 2:40 am Reply

    good work! uma maravilha, acredito que ela vai ser uma das joias de Portugal e de toda europa. Ela devia exprimentar a fazer coroas do Divino Espirito Santo que seria um grande sucesso na comunidade Portuguesa dos Estados Unidos e talvez de toda America!
    Parabens `a artista Deus ajude nos seus trabalhos.
    Jofre cordeiro raposo

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  2. spike cherrie April 30, 2011 8:28 am Reply

    you’re a good woman.


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  3. Vern April 30, 2011 1:45 pm Reply

    Emma, I stand in awe at your webpage and I have been wondering if you designed this yourself? I always pay particular attention to websites and their layout and feel so many lack the punch to reach their target audience, and its always through poorly designed webpages.
    Since I love writing I study your construction of the many comments you create and print, always hoping to find better methods of producing my own simplistic attempts.
    Were you a journalist at one stage?

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  4. judy April 30, 2011 2:36 pm Reply

    Ch ch ch ch changes (turn and face the strain)

    Suburban male frogs have been increasingly found to display hermaphrodism having immature eggs growing in their testes. This may be maybe caused by the pollution in the water where they live: pesticides, herbicides, flame retardants, PERFUMES!! This is in the United States, but maybe Portugal too.

    Thanks for another great subject.

    I read that knarly Small Death in Lisbon. I liked the inspecter and his sidekick. Thanks to Emmas House I know some sleezy new stuff about Portugal!

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  5. Cristina May 1, 2011 8:00 am Reply

    I like the juxtapositions that she presents in these works. It shows a good grasp of of art/craft history & tradition with a contemporary sensibility. (Ugh, is it obvious that I majored in art history?)

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    Emma   Reply: May 2nd, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I wish I’d majored in art history when I’m writing this things… I just have to fumble through with an amateur’s vocabulary 😉

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    Cristina   Reply: May 3rd, 2011 at 11:49 am

    @Emma, I try to hold back on the wordiness when talking/writing about art. There can be times when too many words overwhelm the visual(as I think of all the dry essays I’ve ever read & fell asleep to). On a lighter note, I do make a terrific cocktail party guest 😀

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    Emma   Reply: May 3rd, 2011 at 10:21 pm

    Hahahahaah too funny!

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  6. IsabelPS May 1, 2011 9:23 pm Reply

    Very, very nice.

    I might be a philistine, but I always pay attention to the names artists give to their work (I hate those StudyI, Study II, Study III). I like them. Especially the oh so Portuguese Coração Independente (Marylin is good, too).

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    Emma   Reply: May 2nd, 2011 at 9:10 pm

    I like her names too – in another edition of the shoe she is called Carmen Miranda… and I think in Portuguese she has another different name. A lot of the lace Bordallo creatures have charming human names too 😉

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  7. Rosa Maria May 7, 2011 9:37 pm Reply

    Emma, que boa esta sua escolha, e que bom este seu texto. Atrevo-me a deixar-lhe um desafio, especialmente tendo em conta o seu “olho de lince” sobre a realidade portuguesa, mas tambem por a Emma se encontrar a recuperar uma ruína: – um dia vá ao MUDE (Museu da Moda e do Design) em Lisboa e presentei-nos com o seu olhar sobre o mesmo.
    Um beijo Rosa Maria

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  8. Kirsty E Smith May 20, 2011 9:30 am Reply

    Hello Emma
    Your blog is so fascinating. I found it because I am a huge fan of Joana Vasoncelos myself. Actually I talked about her in one of my recent blog posts too. I am a UK based artist.
    My absolute favourite piece by her is ‘A Joia do Tejo'(2008). There’s a lovely video of it on her website. I will follow your blog because from other posts that I have read your story is really engaging. You leave the reader wanting more!

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  9. Catherine June 20, 2011 2:04 pm Reply

    Love your blog! and this artist seems so fascinating, i love the tampon chandelier

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  10. Isabel June 17, 2012 6:39 pm Reply

    Would you believe it? A Noiva was refused by Versailles!
    I couldn´t believe the Portuguese news, so I had to check:

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    Emma   Reply: June 21st, 2012 at 11:39 pm

    now if that’s not proof that the french are up themselves, then there will never be… 😉

    [Reply to comment]

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