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.
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 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:
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?
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.