Interviewing Filipa Oliveira, curator of the 2019 Navigator Art on Paper Prize

Filipa Oliveira is the curator of the second edition of the Navigator Art on Paper Prize, which distinguishes the best international paper-made productions.

Contemporary art has prompted the experimentation and hybridization of techniques and means, and the immediate association that paper is merely the support of drawing is now a defunct concept. As the curator emphasizes, paper “is a way of thinking the world”, encompassing drawing, engraving, painting, photography or printing. Two-dimensionality has also been questioned and paper is the cornerstone for works that break planarity and expand throughout space.

With the finalists now announced, Filipa Oliveira reveals more about the prize itself, the evolution of the use of paper, its place in contemporary art, while systematizing the most relevant traits of each finalist, who present quite different paths and approaches.

2ª Exposição Navigator Art on Paper Prize runs from May 17 to June 1 at Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes, in Lisbon, and the interested parties can follow the prize developments on the Instagram account or on the website of the prize.


José Pardal Pina – Paper is deeply associated with drawing, but not only. It is a warm material, with plenty of versatility and a wide array of textures and shades. What is the true significance of the Navigator Art on Paper Prize for contemporary art and paper art?

Filipa Oliveira – I fully agree that, although the immediate and obvious association of paper is drawing, working on paper is not just that: it is about sculpture, photography, painting, engraving.It is another field of work and thought. The significance of the Navigator Art on Paper Prize is precisely to treasure the paper-made art. Giving it brand-new visibility, supporting the artists who opt for this medium, proving that paper is not used just for writing, printing or photocopying purposes. Paper is an absolutely unique element, with a connection to creativity like almost no other material. And it is also for this reason that the Navigator Art on Paper Prize is unique in the contemporary art scene, enhanced by the different voices of the nominated artists that open new approaches, new perspectives on paper, incentivizing the valorisation of its paths and its body of work.

JPP – For a long time, drawing was considered an intermediate stage of works of painting, sculpture or architecture and, therefore, unappreciated. Is this preconception now outdated?

FO – I do believe that drawing is no longer the poor man’s art, nevertheless, from a market perspective, paper-made works are generally less valuable than an oil painting, for instance. In this regard, I think there is still a long way to go in order to value drawing. But there are more and more collectors interested in it, more and more fairs dedicated to drawing and more and more galleries and museums that show and value drawing as a medium.

JPP – The expansion of drawing has propelled a liquefaction of the concepts and boundaries of the layer between drawing and painting. In this context, the following question is important: what is exactly drawing, or what turns a work into a drawing? The materiality? The line? The point? Can we look at this issue from this crude perspective?

FO – I think that the delimitations between the different disciplines are no longer that easy to pinpoint and are increasingly juxtaposed. For instance, painting can become a sculpture or a sculpture can become a drawing.Rosalind Krauss, in a 1979 essay, affirmed that the sculpture produced at that time was in what she defined as the expanded field.This expression has been adapted and is commonly used to characterize, as you correctly point out, this liquidation of the boundaries that today is found in contemporary art.The drawing is both the line and the point, it is the figuration and the abstraction, but it is much more than that for me, it is a way of thinking the world.

JPP – In painting, contemporary art fought for the hybridization of the media. Many artists have explored painting beyond its planarity, sometimes stepping into the sculpture realm. Is it possible to think in similar terms when drawing is the subject matter?

FO – Drawing, like painting, has also stepped out of the two-dimensional plane.There are many examples of that, both in modern and contemporary history. I’m currently preparing an exhibition at Casa da Cerca on women from the late 60s to the early 80s, in different geographies, who radically overhauled the drawing line into three-dimensional sculptures.One of them is Helena Almeida, who used the mane of a horse to force the drawing line out of that plane.

JPP – Technological breakthroughs have brought a new way of drawing: vector or computational drawing, with the help of a computer and tools that do not exactly follow the physical drive of the body and the gesture. Can the Navigator Art on Paper Prize handle all these new forms of expression that go from architecture, illustration, design, drawing and paper?

FO – Digital drawing is increasingly present in the work of countless artists.These new drawing dimensions, when put on paper, are clearly eligible for the prize. The only requirement is having a jury member nominating an artist who uses them.

JPP – Can you pinpoint the general profile of each finalist and their relevancy, in technical and conceptual terms, for contemporary art?

FO – As we speak, the five finalists of the Navigator Art on Paper Prize have already been announced and will have their works displayed at Sociedade Nacional de Belas Artes, from May 17 to June 1. There are five of them, all outstanding, with a career of more than 10 years, a requirement in this award that emphasizes the artist’s career and not just one work.

Abu Bakarr Mansaray (born in 1970, Tongo, Sierra Leone) is self-taught in mathematics, science, physics, engineering and electronics. Based on this knowledge, he conceives drawings that resemble schemes and diagrams for the construction of machines that he invented, which can produce fire, light, cold, wind or water. These are unique, unusual designs that combine a futuristic, warlike and science fiction aesthetic.

Andrea Bowers (born in 1965, Wilmington, USA) is a feminist and activist, whose work is focused on contemporary politics (particularly the American reality), using protest, social justice and disobedience as artistic practice tools. In the works exhibited, Bowers questions the notion of drawing, pushing to the limit the examination of the medium, turning paper, for instance, into a sculpture of light.

Catherine Anyango Grünewald (born in 1982, Nairobi, Kenya) has, as one of the central themes of her work, the public space and the way it is affected by traumatic events; since this is also a symbol of the systemic, historical and economic oppression of the marginalized. The artist works mostly with carbon pencils on paper, due to the democratic trait of this commonly used tool, particularly in non-artistic contexts. Therefore, we will exhibit large-format drawings, revealing an excellent drawing technique to delve into current political issues with worldwide significance.

Maria Berrio (born in 1982, Bogota, Colombia) creates large-sized collages, carefully choosing paper from different sources, which explore the diversity of colours and textures. While concatenating surreal narratives, Berrio’s works draw inspiration from South American mythology and folklore, as well as her own biography. In these works, we perceive another way of working on paper. In this case, no longer exploring the notion of drawing, but of collage.

Mateo López (born in 1978, Bogota, Colombia) creates three-dimensional drawings to be physically explored by the body of visitors. They are sculptures entirely made of paper that accurately resemble mundane objects, questioning the border between art and life. More than an artistic discipline, for Lopez drawing is a tool for inhabiting the world.

JPP – As curator of this second edition – and now shifting the focus to the exercise of curatorship –, is it difficult to combine exercises and artists with such different practices, under a cohesive discourse, that avoids the usual “contest exhibition”? Can paper unite all these artists?

FO – This task is difficult indeed, because, apparently, few things unite these artists when we first look at them.However, I feel that they all share a political concern (clearer in some than in others) that works as a leitmotif for me. There is a journey amid imagined characters and figures in contemporary history to approach issues such as resistance, new possibilities for political discourse and how art can fight the invisibilities of history.

José Rui Pardal Pina (n. 1988) has a master's degree in architecture from I.S.T. in 2012. In 2016 he joined the Postgraduate Course in Art Curation at FCSH-UNL and began to collaborate in the Umbigo magazine. Curator of Dialogues (2018-), an editorial project that draws a bridge between artists and museums or scientific and cultural institutions with no connection to contemporary art.

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