Vera Mantero, a mysterious thing, said e.e. Cummings, 1996 / performance
Troubles with Primitivism – a view from Portugal
May 18 – Nov 17, 2024
CIAJG / José de Guimarães International Arts Centre
Guimarães Braga, Portugal

What has come to be known as “primitivism” has a long history, but it was at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century that it was expressed unequivocally. Colonization and fascism, and the development of culture and mass consumption in the midst of Europe’s malaise, drove fascination and fetishization around cultures that were considered “remote”, “primordial”, “primitive”, “naive”, “archaic”, “savage”, “primitive”, among other names. The appreciation and valorization by artists, intellectuals and art dealers of objects from non-European territories, most of them colonized, but also from local contexts, such as folk art, along with the exponential development of image reproduction techniques, made the primitivist aesthetic radiate in the visual culture of modernity in the West.

Primitivism was a way for art to renew itself and assert itself as modern, an artistic practice of returning to origins and (re)beginnings. It brought about a veritable aesthetic revolution in 20th century Western art, and at the same time emptied the temporality and history of the objects it considered “primitive”, consigning them to an indeterminate distant past. At a time of fascism and imperialism, it was as much a nationalist tool for legitimizing the colonial project as it was a liberating and anti-colonial tool, since many intellectuals and artists drank in the primitivist ideology, driven by the desire to subvert the established social order. However, stereotypes, prejudices and a homogeneous view of the “Other” were present in the various, sometimes conflicting and antagonistic, uses of primitivism.

Problems of Primitivism – a view from Portugal is an exhibition that, based on extensive research in Portuguese archives and collections, questions “primitivism” and the contradictions of this historical and cultural process from this country. Investigative and experimental in nature, and without pretending to exhaust the subject, the curatorial proposal summons the entire museum to a critical approach through a polyphony of voices in the sources and in the authors and artists invited to participate.

Six key words, permeable among themselves, organize the exhibition: Civilization, Museum, Ingénuo, “Portuguese Sea”, “Jazz-Band” and Extraction. Through them, we see not a fixed chronology, but diagrammatic paths and correlations, flows, tensions and synapses between texts and images, as well as the interaction between “high” culture and mass culture, between history, art history, politics, anthropology and economics, and also the ideological, social and cultural structure on which the dissemination of an intense visuality related to the idea of the “primitive” was based.

The exhibition addresses the problems of primitivism from Portugal in its relations with the context of dictatorship, colonization, anti-colonialism and post-colonialism, in a visual machine impregnated with images and artistic and cultural references that problematizes the invention of the “primitive” and its persistence to the present day.

Troubles with Primitivism – a view from Portugal
May 18 – Nov 17, 2024
CIAJG / Jose de Guimaraes International Arts Centre
Guimaraes Braga, Portugal

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