Portugal in the Contemporary World

June 24, 2007 – September 16, 2007

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
1050 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC

Pavilion, Sublevel 1 Floor Plan

Four contemporary works (three in the Sackler and one in the adjoining African Art Museum) address the enduring social and cultural impact of the global exchange that was initiated more than 500 years ago in the related exhibition Encompassing the Globe: Portugal and the World in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

In the Sackler Pavilion:

  • Bonfim (2004; wood, iron, taffeta) by Joao Pedro Vale, Portugal. This piece recalls the Portuguese roots of a rich Brazilian cultural tradition. Since the 18th century, the annual Bahian festival of Bonfim has centered on a religious image of Nosso Senhor do Bonfim (Our Lord of Good End) taken to Brazil from Setubal, Portugal. Vale salvaged a boat from Setubal and covered it with cloth bands reminiscent of the "wishing" strips distributed during Bonfim.
  • Okitimanaia Ogu (2000; clove, turmeric, annatto, nylon) by Ernesto Neto, Brazil. Neto stretches porous nylon fabric that dips and curves into sacks of spices hanging at the point of rupture, alluding to that moment when forces interact and yield both creative and destructive possibilities.

In the Sackler, Sublevel 1 near Gallery Shop:

  • Tilework with Horizontal Incision (1999; wood, aluminum, polyurethane, oil paint) by Adriana Varejao, Brazil. Tilework explores the history of repression that accompanied cultural and commercial contact. The geometric order of the blue-and-white tiles in this work is reminiscent of a common decorative motif in Portuguese colonial architecture. As a metaphor for European efforts to civilize indigenous societies during the course of colonial expansion, the painted surface is sliced open to reveal thick, dark paint and polyurethane foam carefully constructed to resemble the interior layers of the human body.

In the African Art Museum, Sublevel 1, in the exhibition Body of Evidence:

  • Hidden Pages, Stolen Bodies (2001; mixed media installation) by Antonio Ole. The port of Benguela in Angola was a major embarkation point for ships transporting human cargo to the Americas and Europe and still symbolizes a dark period in Angolan history. To create a complex portrait of a society shaped by centuries of exploitation and internal conflict, Ole combined his own films with found objects, copies of documents from the archives at Benguela, and image of a bound man based on a Portuguese picture postcard.