DANIEL BARROCA / FILIPA CÉSAR
MANUEL BOTELHO / PAULO MENDES
SUSANA DE SOUSA DIAS
CURATED BY ANA CATARINA PINHO
SEPT 10 - DEC 31 2021
MEIAC, BADAJOZ, SPAIN
EXTREMADURAN AND LATIN AMERICAN MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART
The Empire of Fiction emerges as the final output of the research project and publication Reframing the Archive.
The exhibition explores the fictional layers of the iconographic construction of the Portuguese colonial empire, while rethinking, at the same time, the determining role that technical images plays in the perception of reality. Through the work of five contemporary artists, this exhibition questions the imperial legacies by looking at issues that the images invoke, exposing the fabrication of narratives that supported specific nationalist ideologies, and thus raising the silences and specters from that period that still emerge in the present.
The exhibition presents a selection of works from Portuguese artists Daniel Barroca (1975), Filipa César (1975), Manuel Botelho (1950), Paulo Mendes (1966), and Susana de Sousa Dias (1962). The artists reframe the Portuguese dictatorial past through artistic appropriation of images produced during the period of Estado Novo (New State, 1933-1974), the authoritarian and colonialist regime. Questioning the official narratives behind the regime's visual documentation, they activate institutional archives, but also albums and vernacular collections of that time, through dialectical montages that cross heterogeneous times and produce critical proposals to rethink the heritage and traces of the dictatorial past. This iconographic appropriation and resignification results from the need to clarify unresolved issues that emerge in the present in spectral ways.
The regime's discourse was associated to a nationalist ideology that promoted the idea of Portugal as a unique, pluri-continental and multi-racial nation. Such ideology was fabricated by fictional reinventions of historical reality, thanks to a propaganda machine that showed what the regime wanted to be known and which consequently, over several decades, profoundly transformed the perception of history, time and place of the Portuguese. However, if the New State mainly sought to assert itself through territorial expansion and overseas occupation, as clearly shown in the map Portugal is not a Small Country which opens the exhibition, it was in that same territory that the regime saw the announced end of its desired empire.
In this context, the exhibition opens with a focus on the quest for imperial territory and the controversies of the Colonial War, by articulating the works of the artists Manuel Botelho and Daniel Barroca which, although diverse in the processes and concerns they pose, complement each other in terms of the exploration of the Colonial War imaginary. If, on the one hand, Botelho personifies the anonymous by transforming vernacular images into objects of political significance, Barroca anonymizes the personal dimension of images by fragmenting photographs from his family album in order to explore the limits of representation and memory of historical experience. On the same critical dimension and against the grain of official narratives are the works of Paulo Mendes, Susana de Sousa Dias and Filipa César. While Mendes confronts and questions the political limits of history and national memory, highlighting the specters of Salazar's rhetoric and a regime that, unconsciously, emerges in the country's consciousness in the present,Susana de Sousa Dias exposes the propaganda machine of the dictatorship, and its power structures, highlighting small details in the images that serve to turn the dictatorial discourse against itself, thus opening them to new interpretations and meanings. The work of Filipa César confronts the discourses of both colonizer and colonized, by overlapping different narrative layers through which the imperial consciousness presented in the images is subverted by the voice of the colonial other, who was once invisible and neglected.
The debates on imperial heritage, far from being exhausted, contribute to a global and renewed interest in the 21st century. This exhibition addresses this question aiming to look not only at what the images show, but rather at what they invoke, exposing the construction of fictional narratives that contributed towards imperial ideologies, but also raising the silences and specters that emerge from such past. In the attempt to confront these issues, this exhibition invites to revisit and rethink the imperial past through contemporary artworks that contribute as means of reflection.