States of the Arts


The Island of Love

by Joana Vasconcelos

View an image of the artwork →

Bleached through time and frozen in marble, classical statuary can often seem sensually remote. Upon entering The Island of Love, though, a more Bacchanalian experience can be anticipated. Five women face outwards in circle formation, the charged electrical orbs that they hold hooking us closer. Coral acrylics bristle under our gaze. Crocheted drapery invites unpicking. The sirens ensnare us with the white thread, akin to ship-rigging, cast across them. Once captured, we are carried away from lofty appreciation of the antique nude, to the depths of their sea change.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Horse Money

directed by Pedro Costa
Feature film

View a still from the film →

Light becomes sculptural clay in Horse Money, dancing across walls and over fingers. Hospital lamps shatter the sightline of Ventura, an elderly Cape Verdean, as he is interrogated by Lisbon clinicians. His past is shot through with slips and skelfs of flickering brightness, bringing the fracas of 1974’s Carnation Revolution, the coup that introduced democratic rule to Portugal, into full-beam illumination. Ventura’s memories may be projected before us but, with the actor playing himself, we are never sure whether what we see is fiction or an oblique form of documentary.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ

by José Saramago

View the book cover →

‘For in truth, there are things God himself does not understand, even though He created them.’ Sex flummoxes the omniscient in José Saramago’s fictional theology; this God is a self-doubting, discontented deity. He may be spiritually present at Jesus’s conception, surveying the scene, but it is Joseph’s sperm that wins the race to the womb. Jesus is later recruited as a promoter of sorts to spread God’s word on Earth, so that His reputation among the other gods will be bolstered. An absurd ‘what if?’ scenario, Saramago’s Gospel revels in the conceit of its biblical cast.

Words by Elizabeth Brown

Grândola, Vila Morena

by Amália Rodrigues

View an image of the musician →

Amália Rodrigues’s death prompted a period of national grief, a response wholly appropriate to her music. The genre of fado, ‘fate’, was founded on melancholy and mournfulness. In the form of Zeca Afonso’s original recording, ‘Grândola, Vila Morena’ galvanised the Carnation Revolution. Rodrigues’s version rejected claims of residual loyalty to the defeated dictatorship. The trudging footsteps and rousing chorus celebrate unity, while brass chords ascend hopefully over a secure bass pedal note. Rodrigues’s voice rises above the rabble, adding her trademark melodic embellishments.

Words by John Wadsworth

More to discover

The Island of Love: Visit Joana Vasconcelos's website here. Rachel Spence has interviewed the artist for The Financial Times, as has Elena Cué for The Huffington Post. Tracey Wright has written about her work for MrXStitch.

Horse Money: View the trailer here. Watch a Q&A session with Pedro Costa, the film's director, here. Neil Bahadur has interviewed Costa for Film Comment, as has Aaron Cutler for Cineaste Magazine.

The Gospel According to Jesus Christ: Read an excerpt here. Donzelina Barroso has interviewed José Saramago for The Paris Review, as has Julian Evans for The Guardian.

Grândola, Vila Morena: Listen to the song here. Read Amália Rodrigues's obituary in The Economist. Tom Huizenga has written about Rodrigues and 'extreme expression' for NPR.

Question of the day

Which Portuguese artworks would you recommend, and why? Let us know on Facebook, Patreon, or Twitter.

Transe, a film directed by Teresa Villaverde. A harsh plunge into the mental states by which a woman endures a degrading journey across the sex trafficking market of globalised Europe. (→)

– Cristina Álvarez López, film critic (via The Brief →)

The Institute of Science and Innovation for Bio-Sustainability in Azurém, Portugal, designed by Cláudio Vilarinho. The shapes spanning its pale green facade mimic the molecules of a solar panel. (→)

– Elizabeth Brown, Silent Frame's Deputy Editor (via Patreon →)

Read more: States of the Arts (Europe)