Memory is not an endangered species: Abril Vermelho at CAV and the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution

“An artist is a citizen holding a megaphone.”[1]

As Miguel von Hafe Pérez said, the artist’s voice, embodied in their work, is the one which best addresses our more or less limited conceptions of the world. The what, the how, the when are matters that only each author is accountable for, and this diversity must be recognised. “The author is responsible for living in their time without being a prisoner of it”. This reaffirms their contemporary nature, echoed by Giorgio Agemben: ” Those who are truly contemporary, who truly belong to their time, are those who neither perfectly coincide with it nor adjust themselves to its demands. They are thus in this sense irrelevant (…)”. This unique relationship with time, expressed through distance and anachronism, is precisely why someone can perceive and grasp their time better than anyone else. One voice was heard during the Carnation Revolution parade saying that the revolution has not been done, it is being done. It was certainly someone with that extended view of the here and now, who does not settle for the occasional celebration of something that is a life-long struggle, after all the future is a daily process of hard work, many times unconscious, but utterly necessary.

I have believed for a long time that every concept is given meaning as a result of its opposite. When we know what freedom is, this is simply because the world has never experienced a reality without war, struggle, inequality and subordination. I’m not sure that this is the case today. I refuse to believe that freedom can be reduced to anti-prison. From there to libertinism is a huge leap of faith. We must not deplete a concept in its definition, by using terms that are as close as they are antagonistic. Freedom is a carnation in a rifle and the cry of a people, the offspring of poverty, patriarchy and illiteracy, who gather every April 25, continuing the legacy that was theirs – to unleash dreams, and to fight for peace, bread and housing. This is what I know: enquiring into other ways of thinking, beyond the ones that are thought, or other ways of acting, beyond the ones that are enacted, are vital if we are to continue witnessing and reflecting the world. And then expand it. Revolution happens every day.

Centro de Artes Visuais (CAV), in Coimbra, launched Abril Vermelho using the (good) excuse of this month, an exhibition in which 21 national and international artists address the 50 years of freedom and democracy in Portugal, through an extensive reading of the date. This journey, through the colonial past and the times of the Salazar dictatorship, reveals the visions of artists, most of whom born after 1974, who either seriously oppose the policies in force or adopt an ironic and sarcastic approach. Actually, besides what we may consider to be a confrontation through art with an iconographic archive of the Revolution’s history, we are presented with a sample of the more or less veiled values and concerns of its authors; in itself, this artistic gesture reflects the freedom that has been achieved, and to which we are challenged here to respond. A remarkable historical season is therefore retraced to the present day, minding that an artist is a citizen holding a megaphone, and that art is the world. Art is an extension of the artist and the artist is an extension of the world. We are all the memory we have and the responsibility we take on. And if we do not exist without memory, an artist must take responsibility quite seriously; maybe we do not deserve to exist without it.

Consider the frankness of the images collected by Pedro Medeiros from the Portuguese Tarrafal political prison; the hybrid between the biographical story and the political-social history experienced in Mozambique in the period before and after April 25, by the hands of Manuel Santos Maia, a projection that is a journey of remembrance of the collective-self, starting from the personal to allude to a common experience that went through the African process of Portuguese (de)colonisation; or Nuno Nunes-Ferreira’s reflections on memory, struggle, symbols and factuality, building a symbol and buzzword archive in Detalhes, based on iconic revolution images taken from newspapers and intentionally enlarged/focused, which engage in dialogue with Duas Margens, where Lisbon’s bridge, represented in two sets of postcards, unfolds before (Salazar Bridge) and after April 1974 (25 de Abril Bridge).

Whilst some works and their authors are revisiting past documents and archives, others are retracing these events from a sober or ironic metaphorical perspective. João Vasco Paiva’s A Luta Contínua finds in a cluster of suspended gas masks not only a war allegory, but also an allegory of a country unfit to breathe. Miguel Palma and his endless questioning of modern narratives, through a constructive urge and the use of excessive repetition, such as the military tent, questions the many years of colonial war. In the pieces João Ponte Diniz “Pilha Eléctrica”, campeão de mínimos amadores boxe 1943 e Sting e Portugueses na Europa, João Tabarra uses the euphoria of Portugal’s integration into the European Union as a starting point to satirise the symbolic images and defining aspects of the ancient history of Portugal and the modern country, using the image of the worldly man and the hero. Vanda Madureira’s performance shines a light on messages not to be forgotten; in collaboration with David-Alexandre Guéniot, Patrícia Almeida revives the social unrest of the troika years; Pedro Pousada tells us several things about REDVOLUTION, using a realm that is very much like a comic strip. Rooted in a sheet of paper and the certitude of permanent ink, based on various references, be they art or the world in general, the artist challenges us while providing an extended illustration of the country’s history, between caricature and social-political criticism.

With a title as factual as it is figurative, the exhibition’s red colour carries all the symbolic weight of a bygone era of revolutions and ideologies. A prevailing evocation of socialism and communism, red is a deep history, with origins in the Middle Ages and ties to radical politics, an undeniable sign of the fight against oppression. For the curator, celebrating the Carnation Revolution is not a quirk, but a way of “creating a bridge between the freedom that was achieved and the spectre of a backward, isolated country, swept up in an untenable colonial war”. The fusion between the pride of a triumph and the bitterness of acknowledging past mistakes, something that memory cannot, and must not, forget.

This is because memory is tricky, able to slip away. Nowadays, memory is exalted as a collective phenomenon, we have chosen to remember everything, and suddenly we have turned it into a many-headed elephant centred on tradition, interests and an acritical community context, rapidly alienated from the past or misrepresenting its truths. This dangerously blurs historical facts, undermines details and subjugates chronological events to unavoidably subjective, not to say passionate, ways of remembering. Memory is not a tradable commodity, as Miguel Von Hafe Pérez said: it is a daily critical exercise. It is therefore essential to preserve it, unencumbered by platitudes, made-up ideas and deceased truths. Abril Vermelho manifests itself as the seed of a memory culture, against the inculture of forgetting and the dismantling of democracy.

In Daniel Barroca’s Maps of Complicities, we see an atlas of lines merging the eyes, or the complicities, of young soldiers, revealing the shadows of these images beyond their seeming moment of idleness – echoes of memory and gestures belonging to a timeless realm of collective experience. In Délio Jasse’s work, the well-established connection between photography and memory combines the archive image with clues from other lives, stamps, passports and family albums, to recover memories and construct voices in the present that have been muffled in the past, reflecting on post-colonial African culture and politics. Ângela Ferreira, António Olaio, Filipe Marques, Isabel Ribeiro, Luisa Jacinto, Manuel Vieira, Osias André, Pedro Portugal, Roger Paulino and Ruben Santiago also join the group to embody a cross-disciplinary practice that explores the perceptive and performative qualities of the artwork, through an exercise in collective memory and awe. History has not grown out of us.

Part of the cycle a vida, apesar dela, Abril Vermelho is on show until June 16, starting from a past that is not so past, to reflect a present that will always be present. As someone once said, “Revolution has not been done, it is being done”, which is nothing new: the ideals championed and acclaimed then are the same now. Memory is not an endangered species. We hope that these ideas will also be those of tomorrow.


[1] From the film Liv Ullmann: A Road Less Travelled

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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