The museum as a path towards consciousness

Cláudia Almeida, Museologist (Museu da Quinta de Santiago/Câmara Municipal de Matosinhos) about the Francesco Zavattari's exhibition 'My Art is Female'

The ‘Quinta de Santiago’ museum is a museologic structure that belongs to the Matosinhos Town Council. The museum is based in a late XIXth century historical building, built as the personal residence of João Santiago de Carvalho, who hired the architect Nicola Bigaglia to design it.

Acquired by the Town Council in 1968 and afterward was restored under the supervision of the architect Fernando Távora, the building is a privileged witness of profound urban and social transformations that the city has known in the last century, due to its strategic location: the river Leça’s North bank where, since the middle of the last century has been located the Leixões harbour.

As a municipal museum it has a local focus and because it is based in an urban parish of Matosinhos, the institution aims to become a space of protection of historical memory through Art. Also, it works as a cultural dissemination point with the purpose of projecting into the future a solid base for a developed and educated society.

For the museum, the opportunity of presenting this type of exhibition, with its social and interventional focus, it is undoubtedly an asset to the institution’s objectives of training audiences and creating critical mass, able to introduce change into society.

Francesco Zavattari’s exhibition, entitled ‘My Art is Female’ started through a collaboration with the project ‘Art’Themis promoted by the Association UMAR and it was the synthesis of the work done with students and schools. In this exhibition, the artist conceived the initial works in Italy, his homeland, and afterwards added two canvases, produced in loco during live performances done in schools and public space, in Braga and Oporto.

The idea of ‘in loco’ creation, treasured by the artist, takes us straight away to one of his main features: his high sensitivity. The passion he places in his works, allied to the areas which he works in – Art and Design – allows him to build very rich and complex artistic compositions, employing several techniques and expressions. His fast and apparently nervous and emotional lines offer us the constant sensation of movement. There always remains, however, our personal will to stop in front of his works and absorb his mottoes, his characters, his free winged objects.

In his own words, Francesco mentions that although his art usually does not veer in particular toward political and social commitment, it was with pleasure that he accepted the challenge to travel intensely across the feminine universe and all the complexities that it represents. Because he dreams and believes that his art can be a vehicle of change, an antidote for Evil, has he puts it.

The show starts with the painting ‘As Flores do Bem’ (the Flowers of Good), a work inspired by a Lisbon street action against violence, where protesters were fully dressed in black, walking and holding a red carnation in their hands: Francesco takes this symbol of the Portuguese April Revolution to give it a new meaning: Goodness and instead of representing the women protesters wearing black, he represents them in white, thus associating purity intrinsically to Good.

The entire show is marked by discovering on one hand and confronting on the other, that one must face our inner obligations and necessary evolution. In ‘Hidden Bastards’, for example, Zavattari represents a mob, a multitude of faces with their eyes closed. We ask where the monsters are and do we really want to see them? Do we choose to face them and make a difference? The chaotic and frantic composition mainly results from his perception of the unacceptable violence and brutality that women face.

In his next work, there is a provocation to the observer, a challenge: on the two sides of the painting, two words: ‘What do you see?’, respect? Violence?

It is also interesting to analyse the way he uses colours in his compositions. We are able, for instance, in ‘A Vítima e o Monstro’ (The Victim and the Beast) to perceive that this is one of the most intense paintings of the series, where the idea of violence is obviously represented by the chaos but where the reference ‘red’ is subtler. Maybe it is that the most extreme violence is the one we cannot see…

The two canvases painted in live performances, the first painted in Braga in a meeting with students from a local school, and the second painted in ‘Trindade’ square, in Oporto city public space, together bring hope. These compositions, that result from sharing ideas and emotions that were transmitted in loco and in the moment, reveal how the work done under the Art’themis Journeys of April was crucial to open mentalities and refute prejudice that women are inferior to men, and show how the ideas of respect and equality have found there a safe haven.

The seed was planted.

Translated by Joana Telles Cordeiro Bound