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Portugal marks 50th anniversary of Carnation Revolution with Surrealism festival

In the hammock (From Labour Series)
In the hammock (From Labour Series) Copyright @Priscila Fernandes 2020
Copyright @Priscila Fernandes 2020
By Graham Keeley
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Portugal is marking the 50th anniversary of its Carnation Revolution by celebrating Surrealism and revolutionary zeal in a festival based on the film 'Phantom of Liberty' by Spanish director Luis Buñuel.

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Portugal today marks the 50th anniversary of the Carnation Revolution, the country's peaceful transition from one of the longest authoritarian governments in Europe to democracy. 

A pivotal moment in the country's history, it earned its named because people handed out carnations to soldiers in a bloodless coup led by group of left-wing group of army officers who overthrew the government of  António de Oliveira Salazar, which had ruled the country since 1932.  

It also marked the end of the Portuguese Colonial War in which Lisbon was fighting  independence movements in colonies in Angola and Mozambique. 

To celebrate this, Anozero Biennale of Contemporary Art takes its theme from the 1974 film Phantom of Liberty by Spanish surrealist director Luis Buñuel. The exhibition will examine revolutionary movements in these African states.

Considered by critics to be one of the most important directors of the 20th century,  Buñuel’s works were known for their avant-garde surrealism which were also infused with political commentary.

Artists have been invited to take part in the biennale from Angola, Argentina, Brazil, France, Germany, Mozambique, Portugal, Spain, the UK and USA, with some creating works at the site of the festival in Coimbra, in northern Portugal.  

The exhibition also coincides with the 100th anniversary of the publication of the Surrealist Manifesto by André Breton, which set out the tenets of the movement which was hugely influential in 20th century art. 

Both the Carnation Revolution and ideas surrounding Surrealism offer artists an opportunity to explore themes connected with liberty and revolutionary zeal and how contemporary art can challenge both concepts. 

Concepts of Surrealism and liberty

Curators Angel Calvo and Marta Mestre want the biennale and its artists to address this theme: “If the nourishment of liberty (and art) contains its own transient uncertainty, what is the meaning of creating a reality in which freedom is impossible?”

Both curators believe the very concept of liberty itself is "a phantom". 

“Liberty is a phantom, an inescapable and spectral presence that... also points to an incomplete process, a disbelief in a once certain truth, more of a promise than something real”, they added. 

However, according to Calvo and Mestre, the idea of Surrealism can represent "absolute freedom". 

“Surrealism is a guardian of the enigma within the doctrine of absolute freedom, contesting any submission of thought and art to political imperatives. Irreducible to the generative algorithm, it is unaccommodating to power and history, a defender of the unimaginable, the erratic, and the enigmatic.”

Among the 35 artists invited to take part is Britain's Jeremy Deller who will create a new work at the festival. 

Ten projects which have been specifically conceived for the biennale include works by Yonamine from Angola, Patricia Gómez and María Jesús González, from Spain. Portugal is represented by Priscila Fernandes, Daniel Barroca, Felipe Feijao and Joao Marçal, while  Susanne S.D. Themlitz hails from Germany.  

Untold stories from the Global South

The art exhibition will also focus on artistic production in the global south and aims to tell so far untold stories which evoke the revolutionary spirit.  

This spirit was present in countries like Angola and Mozambique, both former Portuguese colonies. 

With this in mind, part of the curatorial team are João Fernandes, artistic director of Art of Instituto Moreira Salles in Brazil, and Paula Nascimento, the architect and curator acclaimed for winning the Golden Lion at the 55th Biennale di Venezia for Angola. 

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Set in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites of Coimbra, the show runs until June 30 with events held at eight different venues in the city. 

These will include Monastery of Santa Clara-a-Nova, Círculo de Artes Plásticas de Coimbra, Coimbra City Hall, the Botanical Garden, the Colégio das Artes and the Pátio das Escolas  in University of Coimbra.

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