Casa de Liberdade
My second project in Lisbon during summer 2014 was at Casa da Liberdade or Freedom House – MÁRIO CESARINY, an artistic space and multipurpose museum that pays homage to the poet and surrealist painter Mario Cesariny de Vasconcelos. It is located in the historic center of Lisbon, Alfama and in conjunction with the Perve Gallery, adjacent to it, hosts an artistic legacy bequeathed by the artist it is named after, including a collection that started growing in the 1990s consisting of different thematic groups dedicated to different artistic fields. It is a multifaceted space that is based on the unifying concept of freedom. Alongside works that can be defined as ‘orthodox’ Surrealism, in this space there is artwork focused on a range of approaches to exploring freedom, be it formal, narrative, epistemological, ideological, conceptual, political, or religious, by a range of artists. As someone that came into the creative industries as an arts manager via a non-traditional route having not studied art history, or not working specifically in a visual arts organization, but usually in a consultancy or audience development capacity, this provided me with the opportunity to learn more about important visual artists in Portugal. I’ve always been a lover of galleries and museums, usually contemporary, around the world, often with a particular interest in multidisciplinary, political and daring artists.
Cesariny is one of the most important Portuguese surrealist poets, as well as being a painter. He along with other Portuguese artists including Cruzeiro Seixas began the Lisbon surrealist movement. Seixas was a well-travelled painter and poet, and died aged 93 in 2013. This private gallery exists to share and promote the work of these artists in Portugal and internationally, and also promotes and exhibits the work of a range of artists from around the world at various International Art Fairs. During my time in Lisbon working with the gallery in Production and Communications, I have the opportunity to familiarize myself with the ‘Lusofonias’ exhibition, that has already visited Senegal and is heading to India in 2015. Lusofonias refers to a set of countries or states where Portuguese is spoken, including Brazil, Cape Verde and Mozambique, to name a few. The collection includes a range of work by artists from this range of countries.
One of the Portuguese artists to grab my attention from the Lusofonias collection is Joao Garcia Miguel, described as an artist of Globalization. He studied at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Lisbon and then began an interdisciplinary journey that lead him to the performing arts. He works between painting, installation and performance, otherwise known as ‘The Bear’ with a passion for taking risks and taking the audience on journeys that explore their inner being. What really attracts me is the significance of the concept of freedom in JGMs work, that is described in his artistic objectives:
‘Liberty and Theatre are our two main axes. They preside to our activities – those of creation, teaching and world conquering. We focus on these two concepts because when they interact their relevance in present society is extremely important, it contributes to the self-growth of the individuals. We believe that the daily exercise of the conquest of individual liberty is concomitant with the increase of the freedom of those who surround us. It is this binomial that limits and defines the quality and the ambition of what we are and what we wish others to be: more freer and better human beings’(taken from www.joaogarciamiguel.com).
As someone with a fascination with so many art forms, ideologies and cultures through a cosmopolitan lens, this thinking is particularly interesting and satisfies my curiosity. Through my philosophical readings as a teenager, this concept of freedom whilst trying to grasp Sartre’s existentialism gave me grey hairs, as he argued existence precedes essences, and this freedom brings with it much anguish, abandonment and despair. So as artists we strive to exercise our right to freedom and self-expression, which is denied in many parts of the world through censorship or sometimes more aggressive means such as police, governmental and political interventions. Artists will make art and as money becomes more scarce, only more inventive techniques are discovered, and voices can become more socially and politically motivated. It is not always a joyous process, but can come with much pain that meets with beauty in giving human nature a purpose and opportunity to breathe.
Preserving the Past, Pioneering the Future
Lisbon is a fascinating place for culture with a growing number of creatives emerging in the city. The world is finally starting to look up and take notice of this thriving cultural city, that is currently where Barcelona and Berlin were in the 1990s. This is not just a happy accident, the government has concentrated some of its scarcest resources in its creative economy during this time of economic crisis. Creative startups are on the increase, and a range of artistic spaces are emerging all over the city including the LX Factory, not to mention the world-class graffiti constantly popping up on the walls of the city.
It couldn’t possibly all be a pretty picture though. An ongoing world news story is regarding the work of Spanish surrealist artist Joan Miro that has been in Portuguese possession for a number of years. The Portuguese government planned to sell 85 works of the Spanish artist, that became public property when Banco Português de Negócios was nationalised in 2008. The work was to be auctioned at Christie’s in London, but stirred much controversy from some key figures in the art world, including the Director and my colleague at Casa de Liberdade, Cabral Nunes. But selling this work would not even come close to recoup some of the millions lost rescuing a failed bank. Out with the old and in with the new? Definitely some irony there. We live in a fast paced world, where many values and ideas seem to be lost, confused or erased to make room for the new and dynamic. But it’s a tricky balancing act to preserve and celebrate the past, and protect art works gone before us, from which we have much to learn from, instead of reinventing the wheel with technology as an aid, whilst pioneering the future.