Joana Cordeiro about Francesco Zavattari


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In Art’themis, we first had the opportunity to work with Francesco Zavattari thanks to our intern, Elisabetta Ascione. The idea of having an internationally recognised artist collaborating with us was breathtaking. He had accepted to come to Portugal and be actively involved in violence prevention, a field where all help is welcome, but we were far from anticipating where this collaboration was going to take us.

If his original acceptance was generous - he would come to Portugal and perform a live painting in Oporto under the theme of women in art – his reaction to our challenge was of true enthusiasm and, without hesitation, he immediately agreed to our suggestion – he would come and perform three live paintings, one for each of the districts of our project. 

And if that wasn’t enough, we suggested the addition of themes for the paintings: women and the 25th of April and violence against women, because they would be integrated into our event entitled 1st Journeys of April. This time instead of answering, he immediately started inquiring about more details. So, what was planned to be a single live painting performance, resulted in a triptych and all three cities involved with the project could benefit from the experience. We had his generosity and we could also count on his endless curiosity and motivation.

In Braga and Coimbra, the live performances were special moments for the students and the school community. They were free to participate, to take action, ask questions, add suggestions, in a nut shell, they were empowered involved youth taking part in an international event and benefiting from the easiness and fluidity of Zavattari’s motivation and communication.

In Coimbra, we saw the unravelling of themes that intertwined between Portugal and Italy in a rare synchronicity: the Portuguese 25th of April became a joint celebration of Portuguese Freedom day and the Italian liberation day. Now, the students from school Dom Duarte in Coimbra and all of us own a mural, a true monument to dialogue, encounters and a sense of belonging. The art work is mark of that moment and shows the importance of our history/ies and an understanding of ourselves in this global world.

All of these students had been working with art in our sessions, where they had been developing their critical senses and working on inequality and violence. But having the opportunity of seeing Zavattari creating from their own ideas and debate, students felt that they had gained a voice, that their words were meaningful and importantly lived, in a different way, the power of Art. 

The last performance, in Oporto, was set in a public square where we aimed to captivate people to take part in the debate on violence against women. By then we knew we could count on Zavattari’s ability to connect and communicate with people, especially with youth. Once again, he was able to create a comfortable and yet challenging environment, which is irresistible. People came, watched, participated but it was not a surprise: one has to take part in the performances, be involved, question, think, talk, interact… and that is exactly how social change happens. 

The painting ‘Onde Estás?’ (Where are you?) emerged from that awareness raising moment of thinking about violence against women. But above all, what can we do against it, what solutions do we have, where do we think we are failing… to sum up, where do we place ourselves in this fight.  

All those who participated in the live painting performances saw how  Art can truly be brought to Life, and used to embody and express both the complexity and simplicity that emerges from debate. It can be used to elevate to higher levels of perception and understanding of fundamental issues: Human Rights, Women’s Rights, and Gender Equality , the foundations for Violence Prevention.

We were also fortunate to be involved in his extraordinary exhibition, ‘My Art is Female’ a personal interpretation of Zavattari’s Female Universe and his vision of violence against women. In his paintings, there is a call for action, an alert for the invisibility of violence and indifference against it. But the exhibition does more than that; it invites us to focus on solutions, to open our eyes, to become conscious and to act. And that is precisely what Zavattari and his works do, they take a step forward and act for change, which is too often underrated and invisible. 

Finally, to donate a work of art to an association that supports victims of gender violence is an act that we have to celebrate, but a lot more needs to be acknowledged from his journey through Portugal, his work with our youth and with all who joined his performances and visited his exhibition has no price. 

To be a socially and politically involved person may be simply to decide to use ourselves – our work, our motivation, our creativity, our skills – to take action into change. Francesco Zavattari did it, more than he may realise, because his contribution to Art’themis and to UMAR will grow and multiply through all that were touched and moved by his performances and his work. And always with a common aim which is our continuing work: we are here, what can each one of us do? what solutions do we find to end violence and stop inequality? There is still a long road ahead.

Art’themis, is a project for Violence Prevention and Gender Equality Promotion developed with youth that aims to raise awareness, train and empower youth to be and act in a global process of change towards inclusion, respect for human rights and a culture of peace.

UMAR, the promoter of this project, is a Portuguese association that has for almost forty years been working for gender equality, social inclusion, violence prevention and also with victim support. This year, thanks to the support of CIG (Commission for Citizenship and Equality) and the Secretary of State for Parliament and Gender Equality, it was possible to start Art’themis [art & Justice], and to continue with UMAR’s pedagogical work and educational strategy in schools in Northern and Central Portugal.

Our team is made up of Ana Dias, Margarida Teixeira, Diana Costa and myself (Porto), Tatiana Mendes (Braga), Micaela Silva (Coimbra) and our supervisor is Professor Maria José Magalhães, President of UMAR and a teacher in the Faculty of Psychology and Education of the University of Porto (FPCEUP).