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RED LIGHT: Sexuality and Representation in the Norlinda and José Lima Collection

RED LIGHT, curated by Sandra Vieira Jürgens, at Centro de Arte Oliva until March 14, 2021, presents a new perspective on the Norlinda and José Lima Collection, with emphasis on the representation of sexuality and the body through different artistic practices. Throughout the exhibition, in addition to the many questions raised, the most important is related to the current pandemic context: In what way will COVID-19 and physical distance change the way we look at sexuality?

In the introductory text, Sandra Vieira Jürgens presents precisely this premise: “To talk about sexuality and the relationship between bodies during a pandemic that forces withdrawal, or even zero physical contact, is also to reflect on the consequences of distance while it is imposed”. The curator, who chose RED LIGHT as the title of the exhibition to highlight the red line between today’s body contact and the fact that sexuality is still a taboo in art and art history, has turned this exhibitive project into a narrative. Dancers (1995) by Nancy Spero is the starting point; a work that, in addition to showing female figures from mythology, depicted in movement, calls for the emancipation of women and the presence of sexuality in all of Art History through a feminist perspective.

In the exhibition’s first wing, atmospheres, nostalgic landscapes and states of mind, typical elements of the contradictions of love, are evoked in the works of João Penalva, Tiago Baptista or Nan Goldin. In another moment, RED LIGHT also shows a wider historical perspective on sexuality, with paintings by surrealist artists, showing that there are several ways to depict love in a plastic way. We are also confronted with the painting by Gonçalo Pena, entitled Thyssen Atmosférica (2009), a contemporary artist who revisits an old subject, displaying a naked woman in a grotesque industrial landscape, next to Helena Abreu’s watercolour, where two female bodies engage in a bucolic landscape.

At the centre of the exhibition are more contemporary representations, particularly of artists from other fields, such as cinema and literature. For example, the paintings of João Gabriel, in a reference to male pornographic cinema; or Julião Sarmento’s Noites Brancas, from the homonymous novel by Dostoevsky. Following the narrative logic, the last section of the exhibition presents mostly photographs, with emphasis on those that depict a feminine standpoint, such as Cindy Sherman, Vanessa Beecroft or Júlia Ventura. Three women showing the multiplicity of female identity, which for many centuries was represented almost exclusively by men. Finally, Mujeres Autónomas Feministas Libres Libres Alegres (2012) by Rigo, a tapestry that highlights the feminist struggle. It stresses the subject of sexuality, one that must consider all the perspectives and forms of artistic expression.

Finally, we quote Natália Correia’s preface in O Cativeiro de Afrodite, da Antologia de Poesia Portuguesa Erótica e Satírica (1965-66) to show that sexuality is intrinsic to the human being, that art has always been decisive in underlining the different reflections inherent to sexual quality, and that this theme must be constant, regardless of the context in which we live, since it is something that defines us: “It’s typical of human nature to aspire to or savour the ecstasy that crowns the exultation of love (…). This divinizing love, where mortal nature seeks to eternalize itself, takes place in all times and superimposes itself on the historical and religious superstructures which disfigure the being of love, whose immanence is manifested by the superior unity of flesh and spirit.”

Annie Martins (Porto, 1990) co-founder of the curatorial collective Hera, is a master's student in Art Studies - Museological and Curatorial Studies at FBAUP. She was also a researcher at the CHIC Project, supporting the integration of artist films in the Portuguese National Cinema Plan and in the Online Catalog of Films and Videos of Portuguese Artists. Graduated in Cinema by ESTC-IPL (2007-2010) and in Heritage Management by ESE-IPP (2013-2017) collaborates as Art Director in fictions and television programs, and recently started writing for Umbigo Magazine.

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