Helena Almeida, Pintura habitada [Inhabited painting], 1975, acrylic on photograph, 42 x 47.5 cm, Coll.Banco Privado Português, S.A. – In liquidation, deposited at the Fundação de Serralves — Museu de Arte Contemporânea, Porto © Photo: Filipe Braga © Fundação de Serralves, Porto
“My work is my body, my body is my work.”1
Helena Almeida, Tela habitada [Inhabited canvas], 1976, black and white photograph, 205 × 128 cm, Edition of 3, Coll. Galeria Filomena Soares, Lisbonne, © Photo: Filipe Braga © Fundação de Serralves, Porto
Helena Almeida, Seduzir [To Seduce], 2001, black and white photograph (4 pieces), 105 × 72 cm (each), Coll. Helga de Alvear, Madrid/Cáceres © Photo: Filipe Braga © Fundação de Serralves, Porto
Le Jeu de Paume is presenting a retrospective exhibition of the work of the Portuguese artist Helena Almeida until 22 May. Born in 1934 in Lisbon, she is little known in France today. A photographer, we might even say an auto-photographer, painter, video-maker and performer, Helena Almeida uses many different media, and blurs their statuses.
Influenced by Lucio Fontana’s pictorial experiments, she embarked on her artistic activities in the 1960s by appropriating the canvas, and transforming it into windows, then, in 1976, into clothes with the work Tela habitada [Inhabited canvas], before ending up destroying it.
The exhibition follows a chronological thread which helps us to discover her shift to photographic self-portraiture in the late 1970s. She explains that these works saw the light of day thanks to her detachment from painting: “I felt that I was free compared to others. That I had in a way freed myself. I had swallowed painting.”2 In a mixture of shot/reverse shot and off-camera shots, she plays with different forms of matter and the spectator’s spatial landmarks.
Helena Almeida, Estudos para a série “Seduzir” [Studies for the serie “To Seduce”], 2002, painting and pastel on paper (29 pieces), 30 x 21 cm (each), Coll. Helga de Alvear, Madrid/Cáceres
Helena Almeida refuses to be called a feminist3, but nevertheless questions the limits of the female body in the 2002 series Seduzir [To Seduce]. With the help of sketches, presented under glass, in the middle of the exhibition rooms, she choreographs her gestures and postures before photographing them. Her body thus ends up fragmented, and it is at times her hands, at others her feet which fill the large format black-and-white works.
Once again, Le Jeu de Paume has kept its promise of having an egalitarian artistic programme by shedding light on the game of bodily hide-and-seek which Helena Almeida has been playing for almost 50 years.
At Jeu de Paume, Paris (France), from 9 February to 22 May 2016.