Portuguese museum exhibits women’s contribution to ceramics

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Portugal is known for its love of ceramics, with the colourful tiles creating impressive artworks and embellishing the interior and exterior of churches, palaces, ordinary houses, schools, and even railways stations around the country.

To celebrate Portugal’s “Azulejo”, or the form of Portuguese painted tin-glazed ceramic tilework, the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (MNAz) in Lisbon is now temporarily hosting an exhibition of modern and contemporary ceramics by female artists.

Called the ‘Unknown Territories: Women’s Creativity in Portuguese Modern and Contemporary Ceramics (1950-2020)’, the exhibition will bring together pieces from the museum and public and private collections, from tiling to three-dimensional pieces, designed and/or executed by women who have distinguished themselves in this field in the last 70 years.

The display will inaugurate not only the pieces but also the sensitivity and life circumstances of the artists, some kept very much in the shadows as they produced in a time of dictatorship and great gender inequality.

“With this exhibition, we intend to show the role of women in contemporary Portuguese ceramics. It is very loosely known, there are two or three known names but we wanted to show that it is a much larger universe,” revealed Alexandre Pais, director of the National Tile Museum (MNAz).

The exhibition includes works by Maria Keil, Vieira da Silva, Graça Morais, and Joana Vasconcelos, among other artists working on tiling and ceramics.

The work developed by these women “is in the shadow of the male masters and companions who collaborated with them, or is simply relegated to the secondary level”, indicates a text on the framework of the exhibition.

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“Even today, although on a smaller scale, there is an appreciation of projects designed by male artists, despite the growing influence and recognition of the work carried out by women,” it followed.

The objective of this exhibition and of the team assembled by the museum for this project is to change this situation, “to give visibility and importance to a devalued and forgotten heritage, but which is known to be important, of quality and of unsuspected extent”.

The project came within the framework of the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, within the framework of one of its main vectors, the “valuing women artists, gender equality”, originally due to take place in the summer, but postponed to December 14 due to the pandemic.

All pieces are displayed in the corridors of the old Madre de Deus Convent, and although seven decades in the history of ceramics may seem short, these were particularly creative and innovative decades, according to visual artist Catarina Almada Negreiros.

“The panel ‘Presente’ that has actually already existed for 10 years but had never been exhibited uses kinetic tile, which is a tile that has this chameleonic side where it is the observer who triggers the images,” she said.

Unknown Territories: Women’s Creativity in Portuguese Modern and Contemporary Ceramics (1950-2020)‘ will run in Lisbon through December until June 2022.


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