Sunday, 1 October 2023

Censorhsip doesn't always bother us, does it?

Image taken from LUCA - Teatro Luís de Camões Facebook page.

The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge is one of the best-known university museums. Its current exhibition Black Atlantic: Power, people, resistance questions us: “Which stories get remembered, and why?”. The museum states that this exhibition explores some new stories from history, questioning Cambridge's role in the transatlantic slave trade.

In 1816, Richard Fitzwilliam donated large sums of money, literature and art to the University of Cambridge, which gave birth to the museum. The donations were made possible by the enormous wealth of his grandfather, Sir Matthew Decker, a Dutch-born English merchant who helped establish the South Sea Company in 1711, responsible for the African slave trade. Responding to a need and a demand from part of the society – but also its own, it seems to me – the museum puts the finger in the wound, questioning itself and its contribution to the perpetuation of a certain History.

Sunday, 24 September 2023

What is politics about and what is culture for?

Chicago heatwave 1995
(image taken from Liva Kreislere's presentation)

In the beginning of August, I had the opportunity to participate in a summer school organised by the Latvian Centre for Contemporary Art and dedicated to the subject “Care of Earth. Care of People”. Just before I left, I had the opportunity to attend part of the presentation of a young architect and urbanist, Liva Kreislere, on cultural planning. Cultural planning is an approach to city development that looks at the city as a cultural phenomenon and strongly focuses on the local population, local cultural stakeholders, and municipality involvement. It is a method where artists and cultural institutions are increasingly placed in a more central position, with a demonstrated contribution to social well-being as well as to the improvement of citizens’ civic engagement. “Culture”, Liva said, “is closely linked to healthcare, economy and politics.” One of the examples she brought up was that of the deadly 1995 heatwave in Chicago. According to a study, there was a higher survival rate among the older population in neighbourhoods with a strong connection among their members. Closely knit communities took better care of older people, especially vulnerable under the circumstances.

Monday, 5 June 2023

Restless museums

Chéri Samba, "Reorganisation". AfricaMuseum, Tervuren (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

Following the work of museums that question themselves and question us is particularly exciting, motivating and inspiring. In a rather conservative and slow-moving context, these museums are few, still very few, and it is refreshing to be able to identify that kind of leadership that deals with whatever is necessary and helps to bring about necessary changes, gradually contaminating the entire sector. It is in this type of museums that I see a true and honest effort to be useful to society, to be part of it, to be relevant.

Sunday, 14 May 2023

So, what happens tomorrow?


Last day of the project "This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender"
in Ovar (2022)

In 2022, I had the happiness of participating in a very beautiful project by ondamarela, called “This Machine Surrounds Hate and Forces it to Surrender”. It was a project that invited people of different ages in different parts of the country to address the issues of hate, prejudice, difference and freedom through new artistic creations, built with these same people. On the last day of the project, we discussed what this experience had been like for the different participants. I often think of a teenage girl in one of those conversations. When I said “The artists are leaving today, the project is over. What happens tomorrow?” she murmured, “Tomorrow will be a sad day.”

Saturday, 15 April 2023

Freedom for what? Culture for what?


My talk at the General Library of the University of Coimbra, on April 13, 2023, as part of the cycle "Portugal - 50 years (1973-2023): What has changed? What remains to be done?". You can read it here.

Sunday, 1 January 2023

The year of radical care

Partridge in Cape Sounion, 2014 (Photo: Maria Vlachou)

A bit more than ten years ago, I remember how deeply angry I felt at an article by Clara Ferreira Alves in the newspaper Expresso, where she criticised young Greek people for getting married when the country was going through a serious economic crisis. She considered this attitude to be irresponsible, revealing lack of notion. I was angry because, in my view, hope and celebration are ways of resisting. The determination to celebrate in the face of adversity is an act of love, love for life, love for self and others.

I thought about this on many more occasions and also last night, when fireworks went up in the sky, outside my window and in many other places around the world. I was never a big fan of fireworks, they always seemed an unnecessary extravagance to me and also distressingly noisy for certain people and animals. More recently, I found out about their polluting effects. But this year, I felt that their “exploding” sound was also an expression of our lack of empathy, as Ukrainians, while they were also celebrating the coming of the new year (an act of love, hope and defiance), were once again under attack and had to run to shelters.

Saturday, 3 December 2022

Is it really so hard to understand?

Photo: Just Stop Oil via The New York Times.

“Museums tighten vigilance worried about environmentalist ‘terrorism’ actions against art”. I don’t know whether it was the word “terrorism” in the title that I found more shocking or the actual answers given to the journalist by different Portuguese museum directors. Answers that revealed a complete disconnection from the issue of climate emergency and the role and impact museums have on it. I felt dumbstruck when a national museum director stated that he had “some difficulty understanding what museums and works of art have to do with this type of environmentalist protest” and that "It is related to the issue of oil and pollution, but the works of art are not to blame. These are actions to draw attention, but it is difficult to understand why works of art have to pay for this.” Another national museum director said that he finds these actions worrying because museums “hold, preserve and exhibit collections which are unique in the world” and "they [the activists] put at risk a heritage that belongs to everyone" and "must be protected for present and future generations" (wouldn’t these words serve perfectly to discuss our natural heritage and obligation to future generations?).