Paulo Cunha e Silva Art Prize

November 29, 2020 | Anna Zielazny

In Galeria Municipal do Porto, between Sept. 12th and Nov. 15th 2020, a group exhibition of a few artists took place. The exposition was an effect of the Paulo Cunha e Silva Art Prize.

The competition was created in 2015 to commemorate the former conciliary for culture. The contest is aimed at artists under 40 years of age, with different backgrounds, and from different parts of the world.

The art that was exhibited in the Galeria Municipal do Porto was selected from the portfolios of 48 artists.

The jury decided to pick artists from different cultural and geographical backgrounds. The artistic practices also vary in the exhibition. Exhibiting such different art in one space was clearly challenging. Creating a consistent context that would bond all the art in a meaningful curatorial wholeness is never easy. While picking such different artists, the curators of this exposition had an even harder task to do.

As visitors can learn from the Jury’s Statement, the artists that were chosen were those who could get "an energy booster" from being awarded the Paulo Cunha e Silva Art Prize. Moreover, the jury decided to pick artists engaged in current issues, but not only politically. The chosen works comment on modern events but can also be a tool to meditate or reinvigorate. They comment and extend traditional forms and mediums, and talk about nations through the lens of personal experience.

The winners were Basir Mahmood, Shaikha Al Mazrou, Firenze Lai, Song Ta, Lebohan Kganye and Stefani Jemison. 

The series of sculptures made by Shaika Al Mazrou shows a new approach to the medium. The artist shows a different approach to sculptures but also discusses them with geometric abstraction. In this artform, she explores the materiality of art, where the forms are literally "sticking" out from the world, becoming a part of the art gallery.

The works of Steffani Jemison that were exhibited can be interpreted as a comment on language and its limitations. Her images present signs that cannot be read. Their meaning is incomprehensible for passers-by. Because of that, she discusses the problem of translation and lack of understanding in some forms of communication. The signs can be a metaphor of a deficiency in understanding, and the will to do so, for other cultures, including vernacular cultures.

Bashir Mahmood uses videos, photography, and film to talk about the ordinary situations that happen around him. By including everyday situations into art, Mahmood gives a chance for the viewer to become mindful. He focuses on the small things that are happening around him, for example, the work of the Kullis, the luggage-carriers in Lahore. The film focuses on the details, for example, shoes that are passed from hand to hand.

Who is the Loveliest Guy? is a work executed by Song Ta. It holds the same name as the essay about the Chinese People's Volunteer Army in which the author Wei Wei described those people as the most admirable. The artist created a film in which the military group is on a rollercoaster. The camera is focused on the faces of the soldiers. Song Ta processes an artistic exercise in which she explores how military officers, who are supposed to be stronger and more mentally powerful than other people, react to a rollercoaster.

The same artist also created a monumental installation that covers two big walls of the gallery space. Civil Servants, created in 2009, includes over 1000 drawings of Chinese officials and the drawing of the branches on which the personal data of authorities, such as phone numbers or car plaques, are exposed. This action comments on the Chinese system that surveils people while keeping data of politicians in secret. The artist turns the role around, giving the art the power of influencing a political regime.

There is no doubt that by showing such varied and different artists, this exhibition reaches for topics such as globalization and tries to create a discussion with so-called art centres. Nowadays, with such an "open-world", there is no place for one centre, understood previously as western art. The "margins" more often get their voice. That gives the "centre" information that they are no longer established and the only core of artistic practice.

While there is still tremendous work to be done regarding including art from so-called peripheries (to be understood as places that are not located in an artistic centre, i.e. African Art, Chinese Art, Art from Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and so on), this exhibition is a drop that adds to the discourse that still has to be explored.

I'm a polish art historian, specialized in Eastern European art. Currently, I am living in Porto, Portugal. I am a creative writer and the author of SlowMotionTravels blog.

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