Terra – ou os quarenta e nove degraus: Miguel Branco at Fundação Carmona e Costa

Fundação Carmona e Costa is currently showcasing Miguel Branco Terra’s latest solo exhibition Terra- ou os quarenta e nove degraus. This retrospective features over one hundred of the artist’s works spanning three decades. The show, curated by Bernardo Pinto de Almeida, is a tribute to the life of João Esteves de Oliveira. A gallerist and collector who had a significant impact on the artist’s career.

The initial nuclei of the exhibition centers on the Terra series, which was initiated by Miguel Branco back in 2013. The artworks in the first room were arranged in a constellation pattern, with no significant gaps, against the backdrop of violet-coloured walls. The drawings that we observe depict libraries that are occupied by monkeys and apes. These drawings are created using charcoal and graphite and come in different sizes. The libraries are noble, boasting ample furnishings and bookshelves that tower towards the ceiling, fully stocked with volumes. These halls are abundant and imposing, resembling those that could be found in any palace. When we witness such scenes, we may be inclined to associate them with the term Revolution, but Miguel Branco’s artwork does not depict this. The current situation does not involve a hostile takeover by rebellious monkeys, but rather a peaceful coexistence between humans and primates. The animals appear to be seamlessly integrated into their environment and do not exhibit any signs of encroaching on territory that is not their own. In group settings, individuals may alternate between looking at us and observing the space around them, but they do so without any sense of unfamiliarity or discomfort. The drawings in the compositions depict the same scene, but are presented at varying scales across different works.

As one walks through the works, food gradually emerges within the compositions, eventually taking on a dominant role. Miguel Branco drew inspiration from 16th century Flemish painting, particularly from Joachim Beuckelaer and Pieter Aersten, who were pioneers of the “still life” genre. His drawings feature plant elements and are a part of this group. The illustrations depict an abundance of food, with animals often alongside baskets of vegetables and fruits. Occasionally, the scale of the animals may appear disproportionate.

As one progresses through the works, geometric elements begin to emerge. As the drawings progress, black rectangles and circles start to emerge, covering different parts of each illustration. Scenes are repeated in the text. At times, the black rectangles obscure certain portions; at others, they vanish, revealing what was previously concealed. At the center of the first room, there is a small bronze sculpture called Singing Sculpture [from the Naked Lunch series] (2019). It depicts two human skeletons and is displayed at eye level. It is a reference to the performance of the same name by the artist duo Gilbert & George[1]. The artist uses this series of sculptures to highlight different moments throughout the exhibition by adding drawings to them.

Before we move on to the next room, our attention is drawn to a tiny oil painting on wood that is illuminated by a targeting light. This artwork, dating back to 1997, is the oldest piece in the entire exhibition. It depicts an empty room. The presence of animal-filled libraries, singing skeleton sculptures, and the empty room at the end of the exhibition evoke a dark and eerie sensation that persists throughout.

In the adjacent room, the air circulates freely among the artworks, which have been. In this setting, the animals remain the primary focus, but are now depicted in a natural environment with lighter drawings and less heavy use of black. The area is adorned with the renowned artwork O Pensador, which has been reimagined by Miguel Branco as part of the Naked Lunch collection. Small paintings from the Submarinos Nuclearesseries (2017) are displayed on the back wall, arranged horizontally along the corridor that leads to the final room. Throughout this series, we are presented with different viewpoints of what seems to be a submarine, partially visible above the water’s surface. The landscape is depicted in soft lilac tones, evoking a sense of subtle nostalgia while still feeling contemporary. We observe the small landscapes as we walk through them, almost as if we were a drone exploring an underwater world. In this way, we take on the role of spectators, watching from a distance.

The third room features the Atlas series (2022-2023), with forty butterfly drawings that have been successfully created. They are arranged in a linear fashion, forming a mural that covers almost the entire wall in a vivid shade of blue, creating a tragic atmosphere. Each butterfly is unique, with distinct patterns on their wings. Some of them even have tiny human figures integrated into their designs. Their construction process involves the composition and digital printing of images, with references from a wide range of sources such as images of the war in Europe and religious imagery[2]. Miguel Branco creates a connection between historical, spiritual, and contemporary themes by using images of butterflies as symbols of transformation, transcendence, and ephemerality.

The exhibition concludes with a room that highlights Miguel Branco’s vanitas realm. The walls are painted in a vibrant rococo pink hue, garlanded with small paintings depicting a range of subjects such as human skulls, icebergs, surveillance cameras, drones, and craters. The atmosphere is quite catastrophic, resembling a vanitas of the modern world. It reflects an unsettling strangeness that mirrors the present day.

During the exhibition, it becomes apparent that Miguel Branco tends to avoid depicting the human figure in his drawings or paintings, instead focusing on animals or objects. However, in his sculptures, the artist takes a different approach and portrays the human body’s skeleton. Through a medium that is physical, three-dimensional, and tangible, the artist presents us with a reflection on the mortality and fragility of human life. The contrast between these two things may prompt us to think about how nature, human identity, and the fleeting nature of life are interconnected. This encourages us to reflect on our own situation and relationship with the world.

The exhibition is at Fundação Carmona e Costa until June 17.



[1] Singing Sculptures by Gilbert & George was first presented in a gallery in 1970. Wearing faces painted in bronze, the duo danced on a table to “Underneath the Arches,” a song popular in the UK before WWII. A recording of the performance is available at:

[2] Information taken from the exhibition text of Terra—ou os quarenta e nove degraus.

Laurinda Marques (Portimão, 1996) has a degree in Multimedia Art - Audiovisuals from the Faculty of Fine Arts of Universidade de Lisboa. She did an internship in the Lisbon Municipal Archive Video Library, where she collaborated with the project TRAÇA in the digitization of family videos in film format. She recently finished her postgraduate degree in Art Curatorship at NOVA/FCSH, where she was part of the collective of curators responsible for the exhibition “Na margem da paisagem vem o mundo” and began collaborating with the Umbigo magazine.

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