THE OTHER COUPLE
Helena Almeida (Lisbon, 1934, painting graduate) has always been photographed by her husband, Artur Rosa (Lisbon, 1926, architect and sculptor).
The artist’s explanation for this is both simple and revealing:
always been him. Because it is important that the photograph be done in the
same physical place where I conceived and developed the work. So it has to be
someone close to me. But beforehand I always make drawings of the situations
that I want to photograph. Since the 1980s I’ve used video to test things, because
a gesture can be very misleading — a hand a bit more off to the side is already
something else. So I try things out. First with the camera. (…) But I want the
photograph to be a bit coarse, expressive, like something with signs of having
lived, of action.’ (Helena Almeida interviewed by Isabel Carlos in Helena
That physical place is her studio. She grew up there, for it was once the studio of her father, sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida, whose work includes the sculptures of the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrão dos Descobrimentos), and who was one of the foremost names in Portuguese 20th-century statuary.
Rather than creating pieces for a specific place or location, Helena Almeida seems instead to state that the place is the studio and the studio is her world. That is why the photos must be taken in the place where the work was developed (the studio). That is why the photos must be taken by someone from her intimate circle.
The process generally begins with drawing: first, Helena Almeida draws the positions and movements in which her body is to be recorded and then, in a series of two-handed sessions, is photographed by Artur Rosa, who sometimes is also included in the image.
This exhibition focuses precisely on the pieces, both photographs and videos, that feature the couple. Its title alludes to the couple that gave the museum its name, Arpad Szenes and Vieira da Silva, while highlighting the work of another couple, Helena Almeida and Artur Rosa. Besides this, we also find, particularly in Arpad’s work, several depictions of couples.
There is, for instance, Le Couple (c. 1933), a small 21×13 cm oil on panel by Arpad Szenes in which two bodies merge into one as they embrace near a table (or chair). Or Helena Almeida’s O Abraço (2006): we only have to look at the combination of the stool with the couple’s bodies to quickly acknowledge a thematic and experiential affinity with Arpad’s painting.
In 1979, the image of the couple appears for the first time in Helena Almeida’s work: Ouve-me is a storyboard-like series of eight black-and-white photographs in which the two artists’ faces confront one another. From 2006 on, as the exhibition documents, the couple is depicted more regularly.
The cinema has always been a passion of Helena Almeida; Pintura Habitada, Joana Ascensão’s 2006 film, focuses on the Helena Almeida/Artur Rosa/Studio relationship and was accordingly included in the exhibition as a faithful document of the process behind her work, from drawing to photographic printing.