The purpose of things is, precisely, this movement that they bring in themselves, this tendency, born of the contradiction between their finite nature and that which transports them beyond themselves, into the infinite, […] identifying themselves with reality in its entirety, or rather, with God.[1]

This text has a before and after and a story deserving to be told. The discovery of Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s (n.1988) work happens during a chance encounter with two of her oil pastels on paper (Practical Dictionary of the Trade) and A Confissão da Sombra (the Shadow’s confession), both from 2012] that are stored in the shairart dst gallery, in Braga. Split seconds must have gone by from this encounter to the eternal remembrance of the aesthetic emotion, but it was enough to allow a restlessness to become uncertainty and upheaval. Not because of the quality of the work of the young Bracarian artist; but because of the inexhaustible source of parallelisms and identifications that it leaves in each one of us. The contemporary processes of curatorship, according to more recent theories about the curator’s role as a substitute for the art critic (who is almost extinct, regardless of the curator’s institutional background), is not extraneous to taste and intuition. At the first (and at the second) glance, it was clear that an individual exhibition of Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s works fit into shairart’s curatorial strategy. First, because of the sense of mission that inspires us to dedicate part of our programme not only to the support of young artists, but also of local artists. Second, because of the conceptual and poetic dimension that her work incorporates and that intersects with the project’s commitment with contemporary thinking through open, multi-disciplinary dialogues.

Joana de Carvalho e Silva has always painted. Still, she resisted her calling at first, and chose to study Psychology at the University of Minho (2006-2009). A Master in Painting took her to the Faculty of Fine Arts of the University of Porto (FBAUP) (2010-2012), where she defended her thesis entitled “O Teatro de que somos lugar: Pintura e Simulacro”. She is currently doing a PhD in Arts and Design, also at the FBAUP. The scope of her academic background and interests, as well as the sensibility she shows in each word and gesture, indicate a high degree of intellectual sophistication and suggest a permanent reflection exercise about her artistic production that give consistency to what she proposes. She has been exhibiting her work regularly since 2010, and one of her creations [De Porcelana (In Porcelain), 2011] is part of the collection of the Centro de Arte Moderna José de Azeredo Perdigão, of the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian.

Her images roam, in terms of historical reference, between those of Dominguez Alvarez (1906-1942) and those of Edward Hopper (1882-1967). They are reminiscent of Jacques Tati’s cinema (1907-1982) and, above all, they transport us to the macrocosm of Augusto Boal’s (1931-2009) theater, characterized by human conflict, both internal and external: “But the artist does not live on applause alone. He also lives on gunfire. He may commune, duel or war with the public.”, wrote the Brazilian playwright, inventor of the aesthetics of the oppressed, in Aplausos e Tiroteios. Moreover, beyond the journeys that Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s work provide (which make them rich, informed and timeless), there’s the pastel, the mastery of the technique and the subtlety, sometimes the rage, that the artist employs in the strained relationship between composition, color and message that her work embodies. What brings us closer to – and disturbs us in – Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s paintings is the game of drawing signifiers from everyday life, using irony and melancholy, perhaps even the overall, disguised state of depression in which we all find ourselves. Joana suggests it and explores it in her work, inviting us to embark on a process of systematic immersion.

And this is the “before” – the time before this systematic immersion in her world, and before the contact with her multiple references, ranging from Rembrandt’s painting (1606-1669) to Jean Baudrillard’s (1929-2007) philosophical thinking, from the dissection of the concept of simulacrum to the cinema and, specially, the theatrical and literary universe of Manoel de Oliveira’s works (1908-2015). In the “after”, curator and artist shared their aesthetic emotions and found themselves in Vale Abraão (Abraham’s Valey)(1993), a film by the Portuense director, with Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ruy de Carvalho, among many others. It derives from an adaptation of Agustina Bessa-Luís’ (n.1922) work of the same name; the latter, in turn, is a literary exercise inspired by Gustave Flaubert’s (1821-1880) Madame Bovary (1857). During my conversation with Joana de Carvalho e Silva, which lasted a few hours, I lost count of how many times I saw the film and read the books again (Agustina’s and Flaubert’s). I also saw in Ema, Oliveira and Agustina’s character, the same inexhaustible source of parallelisms and identifications, personified in two women. One is turned to the illusory fascination of the world; the other is turned to the transcendent, to the poetry of a romantic ethic, where love must resemble a very respectable god – in other words, the synthesis of the pictorial simulacrum in Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s work.

In Abraham’s Valey, place of the Man vainly summoned to the awareness of his pride of shame, of anger, things happened and things happen, things that belong to the dream world, the most hypocrite world there is.[2]

The title Vale Abraão (Abraham’s Valey) emphasizes the context. The Douro Valley, with its winemaker rituals, its dream world and imaginary desires, is the fictional center of the film. It is presented and sacralized by the voice of the narrator and, in imagery terms, framed from the beginning by a travelling shot from the inside of the train, which penetrates it, showing the documentary fascination ever-present in Manoel de Oliveira’s work. The absence of the urban space gives a paramount importance to the Douro Valley, revealing a universe of peasants, bourgeois, grape harvesters, masters and servants.

However, the first information that the narrator gives us about the Valley introduces us to a somewhat mysterious and problematic universe, a “dream world, the most hypocrite world there is”. The narrator’s considerations about the beginnings of the Valley and about its patriarch, Abraham (who ignominiously used his wife Sara as an object of seduction for his own benefit, and who had extramarital mishaps[3]) cast shadows in the Valley. It is filled with memories of a troubled past, and the descendants now lead an apathetic and modest life, revealing a decadent vision of a ruined bourgeoisie. Nevertheless:

Ema did not deceive anyone. She had no tactics. She only had had the sense of spectacle. She got dressed and she acted, as if she had to conquer Holofernes in her camp, but in reality, it was nothing more than a kind of eroticism tabulated by the utopia of power and social importance.[4]

The patent antithesis in Joana de Carvalho e Silva’s compositions, which resort to the symbolic manipulation of scale, causes us to discern the architectural frame, of illusory and labyrinthine perspective; the indistinct human clusters that inhabit it, in micro version; and the figures, usually female, that occupy the building to an advertising scale, but closer to real life. In a perfectly defined chromatic exercise, despite the physicality and density with which she uses the material, the artist creates flat surfaces, in which she experiments with sets of chiaroscuro, that she combines with a certain sensitivity discernable in her drawings and in the delicate and expressive representation of the human figure. Referencing the atmosphere created by Manoel de Oliveira, as well as his slow-motion shots and his attention to detail, becomes inevitable. It is all and nothing, in the illusion of the opposites (empty and full, light and shadow, loneliness and company, a close-up on the faces and undifferentiated bodies, hot and cold, calm and chaos, stage and audience), and in images of multiple and endless readings.

I have come to the end of my apology of romance as a great network. One could object that the greater the tendency of the work to the multiplication of what is possible, the more it departs from the unicum that is the self of the one who writes, the inner sincerity, the discovery of its own truth. On the contrary, I say, who are we, who is each one of us but a combination of experiences, of information, of readings, of imaginations? Each life is encyclopedia, a library, an inventory of objects, a catalog of styles, where everything can be continually shuffled and rearranged in every possible way.[5]

About the exhibition, which shairart dst gallery hosts from March 3rd until April 28th, (In)visible Scrutiny – Painting and Simulacrum, the author tells us that it is a “pictorial project centered on the theme of the simulacrum and configured in the relationship between cinematographic space and painting space”. Nearly 40 works produced between 2010 and 2017 are shown; but, above all, the artist who is, in every way, her work, is revealed.

There is between us a mutual esteem, which lies in the imponderable. She would not be able to explain it, even if she could speak. She was completely devoted and upright. Between me and her, this vegetative – I cannot quite define it – connection was formed. I know that she was a woman who dedicated her whole life to her work, for the sake of devotion, without it being asked of her.[6]

Helena Mendes Pereira

shairart’s chief curator


[1] GARAUDY, Roger – La pensée de Hegel. Bordas, 1996, pages 29 to 34. In SANTOS, Maria Helena Varela; LIMA, Teresa Macedo – Filosofy texts. Complementary Course. Volume 1. Porto: Porto Editora, 1977, page 221.

[2] OLIVEIRA, Manoel de – Vale Abraão, with Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ruy de Carvalho. Portugal/France/Switzerland, 1993, 187mn (full version 203mn), DVD, Madragoa movies.

[3] According to the Bible, it was customary at the time for the powerful rulers to confiscate the attractive women for themselves, killing their husbands afterwards. Sara was a very beautiful woman and Abraham, in his wanderings to spread offspring, to protect himself and to be welcome in those places, claimed Sara was his sister. Abraham received many goods and riches for Sara’s dowry, but whenever the rulers discovered that Sara was a married woman, they were punished; one of the punishments was making all women infertile.

[4] OLIVEIRA, Manoel de – Vale Abraão, with Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ruy de Carvalho. Portugal/France/Switzerland, 1993, 187mn (full version 203mn), DVD, Madragoa movies.

[5] CALVINO, Ítalo – Seis propostas para o novo milénio. Translated by José Colaço Barreiros. Lisbon: Teorema Editorial, 1990, page 145.

[6] OLIVEIRA, Manoel de – Vale Abraão, with Leonor Silveira, Luís Miguel Cintra, Ruy de Carvalho. Portugal/France/Switzerland, 1993, 187mn (full version 203mn), DVD, Madragoa movies.