New to hit Manchester Art Gallery are the fabulous works of Portugese artist Joana Vasconcelos. One of the best things about this exhibition beyond the fun, large scale creations of the artist, is the fact that you won’t see it anywhere else – many of the works were exclusively created for the Manchester Art Gallery.
STYLEetc took a guided tour with the artist herself and were drawn into her world of colourful, intricate detail and the stories embedded in it.
Joana Vasconcelos said: “It is a privilege to see my work go on show in Manchester Art Gallery’s remarkable spaces. I am particularly proud of the dialogue established between Manchester Art Gallery’s collection and my works”
Joana is a great story teller, through listening to her guided tour of her works we found that they are full of the drama and love of life that the artist herself possesses. Amongst Manchester Art Gallery’s collections Joana’s pieces stand out as unashamedly feminine, providing light hearted, beautiful additions and contrasts to the surrounding works, and also being a little bit rebellious.
One of Joana’s crochet paintings; True Faith, 2014
A large scale fabric installation called Britannia (below) makes a grand entrance. Made for Manchester Art Gallery and this exhibition, as people enter you can see their eyes moving from one piece of the installation to another taking in all the different areas of fabric and the way the gallery space is changed. Joana explained that she chose a mixture of Portugese and Manchester made textiles in a fusion of tradition and future fashions that embody the theme of “Time Machine”.
Embellishment, decoration, and looking at subjects in art thorough different materials is key to this exhibition. Joana was excited to be able to take over many of the gallery spaces with her own, specific works to offset the surroundings. Her pieces take on an extra dimension when interacting with other works in the Manchester Gallery, creating thought, playing tribute, and giving humour.
Big Booby #2, 2011 (above) is beautiful on it’s own, but you could argue that it is better when placed next to the painting of nude nymph-like ladies on the adjacent wall – William Etty’s The Sirens and Ulysses – connecting the theme and making a joyful union that Joana loves!
War Games, 2011
Lilicoptère, 2012 (with STYLEetc!)
Full Steam Ahead, 2012
In the main exhibition, displaying the machine series , the stories become more developed and connect. These machines are really memorable and create the ‘wow-factor’ of a big hit touring exhibition for all ages and interests to be inspired by the love of art and making.
Joana explained that; “If the piece War Games is the girl, then Lilicoptère is the queen!”. The 3 coloured flower shapes made of irons – called Full Steam Ahead – show how traditions can be taken, and played with to come up with something free, and fun. This idea is embraced in the video; Fui às Compras (Gone Shopping), showing a pilgrimage to Fátima, a shrine in Joana’s native Portugal. Joana plays the determined traveller and adventurer, putting safety aside for her art and also to entertain. The journey isn’t glamorous, but the relentlessness of the video reflects Vanconcelos as an artist.
After finding out that Joana also has a great love of fashion, we asked some quick questions after the tour about how this is reflected in her art, and also what she referred to as “bringing a female perspective”:
Many of your works bring what you call ‘my female perspective’, and this is a big part of the machine series, what does this perspective mean to you, is it personal, or something that you feel comes with being a female artist?
It’s something that comes with being a woman. I’m inspired by what surrounds me, by everyday life, and I am guided by my critical spirit. I have no way of escaping that condition. My perspective will always be a ‘feminine’ way of seeing things. However, that does not make me a feminist. I am for equality of rights for all, never mind gender, age or race.
Have you ever been inspired to create a catwalk collection or a wearable art?
I studied jewellery and have always been very fond of fashion. I design some of my own clothing and also work closely with many Portuguese fashion designers who design for me, and who are also some of my best friends. Moreover, due to my training in jewellery, I’m also quite inspired by this métier, as is obvious through my Independent Hearts which are based upon the piece ‘heart of Viana’, an iconic work of Portuguese filigree. I have some very, very early works called Bunis that function as headpieces. The piece Overware serves as a sort of armor-bra.
Recently, I also designed the piece Vortex, a gold and ruby-clad necklace that embraces one’s neck. This piece will be auctioned in March and the proceeds will be donated to a Portuguese foundation of social intervention, focused on fighting for the rights of women and children of the feminine sex, also supporting areas such as maternal health and the promotion of Human Rights and citizenship.
Do you think that women in Portugal, and everywhere, still have barriers to overcome in careers and gaining independence, and would you have any one piece of advice to spur women on?
Definitely. The sexual revolution was not that long ago, and it takes much longer for cultures and mentalities to evolve. The piece of advice I would give comes from a political rallying cry that was popularized during Mozambique’s war for independence and has become a cry for democracy in general: ‘A luta continua’ (the fight is still on)!
We guarantee that you will remember her work so head down to Manchester Art Gallery and check it out!
The exhibition is free, and the works will be on display at the Manchester Art Gallery between the 15 February and 1 June.
~ by Ellie Sutton