The voice of silence

When we visit Manuel Rosa’s anthological exhibition at the National Society of Fine Arts, we are at first affected, impressed, impregnated by the transparent silent curtain of the 66 exhibited works.

Albeit the profusion of materials used – limestone, clay, plaster, bronze, iron, moulding sand, glass, etc. – and despite their thematic and formal diversity, these sculptures coexist harmoniously in the outstanding space and create, through their interiority, a myth-like storyline, compelling us to hear the silence’s voice, the soundless melody of this quiet artist, catching, during the long wait of this ecstatic drama, the only plausible meaning that these works can give us, poetically magnifying themselves over us, piercing time.

A peaceful melancholy inhabits some works, particularly the 80s sculptures; wreckage of self-absorbed figures, stone-made canoes tumbled down by a sense of exile and abandonment to fate’s maelstrom, primitive, empty dwellings, where we cannot find a single soul, totemic bodies without a single person inside… on the other hand, there’s an indelible hieratic nobility; they show a formal dispossession and an extreme depuration, abolishing any superfluous element. Manuel Rosa’s sculptures are focused on the essential; they summon the easily recognized archetypes, like the human figure, the house, the boat, searching through them the pure Platonic form; they exude a powerful symbolic energy that contrasts and intensifies the materials’ expressive density. In other cases, the works have immaterial contours, with the sculptures displaying shadows cut from iron casts, horizontally fixed on the wall. Another piece/installation of Arte Povera, from 1996, consists of a black mound of moulding sand, whose faces are moulded in human torsos, which time will fend and erase, once again showing the ontological reflection of Manuel Rosa’s work on existence’s precarity.

Clareira is the exhibition’s title, a rigorous anthology, curated by Manuel Costa Cabral and Nuno Faria, covering Manuel Rosa’s artistic path, from 1984 to this day. At the entrance of the room there are seven recent sculptures in baked clay and plaster, works made specifically for this exhibition; floor sculptures, large white platters on which severed heads rest, a possible allusion to John the Baptist’s beheading, described by S. Matthew 14,11: “John’s head was brought in on a platter and presented to the girl, who carried it to her mother.” In one platter, the head was replaced by a cluster of balls, noting the artist’s persistent tendency to simplify and depurate shapes.

The gallery’s right side mostly has iron and bronze works, whereas the left side shows stone-carved sculptures. Sometimes, the aforementioned archetypes and primordial forms, filled with symbolic energy, are, unexpectedly, articulated with vulgar anodyne objects, banal things, like door handles, car batteries, or gourds and balls. This game of symbolic articulation with different gradations of meaning gives the exhibition a derelict dimension, but also emphasizes, due to the objects’ decontextualization, Manuel Rosa’s ability to show the imperceptible.

When the Prophet Elijah took refuge in Horeb, in a dark cave, waiting for God’s instructions, he suddenly heard a violent wind that split the mountains; but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, the earth trembled and a fire started to burn; but the Lord was not in the fire. After the fire, a murmur was heard in a gentle breeze; “when he heard it it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” (1Rs 19, 9-14). With that discretion and subtlety, Manuel Rosa walks in a quest for absolute beauty.


* This title was taken from the eponymous book of Helena P. Blavatsky, translated by Fernando Pessoa to Portuguese in 1912.

Manuel Rosa – Clareira (Sculpture 1984 -2004)
Curatorship: Manuel Costa Cabral Nuno Faria

To see in the National Society of Fine Arts until July 21

José Sousa Machado. Was born in Luanda, Angola in 1956. His school education was in Lisboa, Portugal, where he attended the french school, Charles Lepierre, Colégio São João de Brito and completed secondary school in Liceu Pedro Nunes. Still in Lisboa attended Instituto Superior Técnico. In 1975 moved to Brazil and graduated in Economy in the Faculdade de Ciências Políticas e Económicas in Rio de Janeiro where he also studied literature for 3 years in the Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio de Janeiro. In 1981, back in Lisboa, worked as journalist, art critic and cultural coordinator for the newspapers Correio da Manhã, Semanário and ABC magazine. Gave his colaboration in the cultural area to the Jornal de Letras, Diário de Notícias, Diário Popular, Diário de Lisboa among other publications and periodicals. Founded and directed the magazines Artes & Leilões, Arte Ibérica, Agenda Cultural de Lisboa and Aprender a Olhar. Since 2014 in charge for project Livraria Sá da Costa.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)