Maria José Aguiar

Barcelos, 1948

Although with intermittent visibility, the work of Maria José Aguiar has been a periodic participant in re-readings of contemporary Portuguese production in recent decades. This insertion in major thematic exhibitions has revealed the value of her work’s experimentalism, freedom and irreverence, but also highlighted her importance as a precursor of the new figurations of the 1970s and of studies and discourses surrounding gender.

Anchored in the representation of the sexed body, manipulated, superimposed and fragmented in rigorous formal compositions, Maria José Aguiar’s painting manifests a brutal erotic drive. The work also expresses a political conviction against a moralising and subjugated vision of women inherent in the representation of their bodies and desires, using the explicit representation of sex and genitalia as a critical symbolic vocabulary.

The central role given to the penis progressively hollows it out into a formal visual code, giving rise to fun caricature-like graphic and ornamental patterns that are developed and repeated in pure flat colours and dynamic compositions. Her ironic, disobedient work flies in the face of the deeply conservative, clerical and patriarchal environment in which it is developed, yet it is also critical of the history of art, repeatedly citing and erasing some of its dominant male practitioners.

Lígia Afonso
[Plano Nacional das Artes and Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian]
Curator, teacher and researcher born in Lisbon in 1981
Text originally written for Google Arts & Culture apropos the exhibition “All I Want, Portuguese Women Artists from 1900 to 2020”, curated by Helena de Freitas and Bruno Marchand