Performing Identities: The Case of Helena Almeida

    • Cover Porto 2017
    • Presentation speakers
      • Miguel Mesquita Duarte, Institute of Art History, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa
      • Bruno Marques, Institute of Art History, Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, Universidade NOVA de Lisboa


    Helena Almeida (b. 1934) is a Portuguese artist best known for her work in black-and-white photography. In Almeida’s oeuvre, photography becomes a performative medium from which the artist dramatizes her own identity and corporeality, recurring to strategies that stress the tensions between self-showing and the anonymity, interiority and exteriority, visibility and invisibility, communication and silence. Despite the importance of performance and photography in her work, Helena Almeida paradoxically claims that she is a painter: ‘my works, as far I’m concerned, are paintings’ (Almeida 1997). Nonetheless, photography appears as a ‘way of painting’. This tension between photography and painting comprises crucial issues concerning the limits of representation and the reinvention of gesture, but also processes addressing what the artist herself called the fictions-fixations of her own body and identity. This is something that Helena Almeida already sensed as constituting the most incisive aspect of the ripped canvas by Lucio Fontana, “Concetto Spaziale, attese” (1960), to which she explicitly alludes in several images. Photography is exposed as the other side of the canvas (of painting itself), figuring its reverse and materializing the multiple gestures and attempts that recreate the identity of the artist, towards a space of otherness and desubjectivation. Not by chance, about her images Almeida once said that ‘they are no self-portraits because I do not find in them my own subjectivity, but instead my plurality, which I make appear in a kind of stage scenery’ (Almeida 2005). Our aim is to provide a comprehensive analysis of Almeida’s work through a careful selection and description of some of her most representative images. Simultaneously, we propose to offer contextualization and engagement with Almeida’s own statements on her intentions, critically examining several positions taken by the artist in different occasions.