Helena Almeida (Lisbon, 1934 - Sintra, 2018) is a Portuguese artist, a pioneer and a central character of an important transformation of artistic practices between the 1960s and 1970s, which has been conventionally called “conceptual art”. In 1969, the artist leaves painting to start a work in which photography becomes a fundamental support for questioning the identity and practice of artistic genres such as painting, drawing, performative action, and photography itself. In her use of the photographic image, Helena Almeida is not a photographer; she is an artist who gets photographed in her studio, meticulously planning the scenes in which her body appears situated in a relationship with painting, with drawing, with an action, building images that present her as a character: the woman artist located in her studio and in her work. In a Portugal that then lived under a dictatorship oppressing women's rights, the artist presents her body staged in her own artistic work, in an act of freedom lived in her own studio, building a unique and fascinating practice that she will develop throughout her life.
This exhibition is the first individual presentation of Helena Almeida's work in Brazil. For an institution like IMS, with a vast photographic collection, thinking about the photographic image also offers a context to present works that exemplify an expanded field of photography, where artists use it as a support for concepts and languages that expand the possibilities of image construction, beyond its own technical specificity. Photography proves to be a conceptual support of open ideas, a way of inhabiting art and the world with a singular look, not so much an autonomous genre, artistic or documentary. The reunion of the works presented in this exhibition, as well as the anthological view of Helena Almeida’s work it offers, was only possible thanks to the dedicated, rigorous and knowledgeable work of Isabel Carlos, curator of the exhibition, who accompanied the artist in several of her projects, to whom we manifest our deepest gratitude, and equally extensive to the museums and collectors that helped us with the greatest generosity, as well as the IMS staff, who enabled this achievement. For Helena Almeida, “inhabiting” photography has always been her way of inhabiting and questioning art and the world, a challenge that now expands to all who will have the opportunity to know her work and, through it, expand the possibilities of their own gaze.
Marcelo Araujo, General Director
João Fernandes, Artistic Director
Instituto Moreira Salles
This is the first anthological exhibition organized after Helena Almeida’s unexpected passing in 2018 and it is centered in the core of her artistic production: photography.
Photography inhabited by painting, drawing, sculpture, architecture, and performance, and above all, by her body and her senses, in a route that starts with Tela rosa para vestir [Pink Dress Fabric] (1969) and ends with her last work, Dentro de mim [Inside Me] (2018).
The artist’s body and its inherent images – from the hands to the mouth, from the face to the entire body – will be successively explored throughout her work, never as self-portrait, nor as a staging or theatricalization of other characters of figures, but as a repeated presence of herself. The artist’s concrete physical body shall constantly be thrown off, disfigured, hidden by the spot that sometimes will prolong it, sometimes will shed it, will get inside or outside it, but without resorting to masks or accessories, or artificial scenarios. The body is dressed as neutral as possible and is recorded photographically in her studio, with a minimum of elements, after being conceived-projected. See in the next room the preparatory designs and listen to the only sound piece conceived that records the sound of graphite scratched on paper, entitled Vê-me [See Me].
The boundaries between artistic genres like thoses between the five senses are destabilized to highlight the plurality of sensorial experience, the distance between the scream-appeal of Ouve-me [Hear Me] and the speechless sutured mouth images, create restlessness and take us to a threshold of sensations and languages with a strong political affirmation while carrying a communicational anguish.
From Minimalism to Conceptualism, from performance to photography, Helena Almeida’s work deals with all the great artistic movements from the second half of the 20th century to the present day, in a way that is never an epigone, but always deeply inventive and personal, since it creates a vocabulary and invents a world, without detaching from its references. Indeed, the recurrence not only to series but to the same titles-concepts over the years confirms it. In her own words:
“I walk in circles; cycles come back. Work is never complete; it has to be done again. What interests me is always the same: the space, the house, the ceiling, the singing, the floor; then the physical space of the screen, but what I want is to deal with emotions.”