The CIAJG has brought together works from different times, places and contexts in articulation with works by contemporary artists proposing a (re)assembly of art history, as a succession of echoes, and a new porpose for the museum - as a place for wonder and reflection.

The José de Guimarães International Arts Centre is a structure focused on contemporary art and the relationships it establishes with arts from other eras and different cultures and subjects. Based on a conception of art as a space of experience and freedom, not subjected to the categorisation of history, form or style, it has special interest in issues which have become important operative concepts in contemporary art and the present-day world, such as: energy vs. form, circular vs. linear conception of time, archaeology of knowledge, nomadism, migration – of forms, motives, ideas, people, goods –, individual and collective memory, hospitality, community, exchange, miscegenation, cultural anthropophagy, and utopia, among others.
At the CIAJG, we combine objects and images from very distant times and places, sometimes without any apparent connection, as if they came to us brought by the wind, as if they were flying seeds. We want to refound the museum as a place of wonder and reflection, as an air stream and mirror, as an infinite horizon. For this reason, we intermingle different languages and methodologies, from archaeology to ethnology, passing through the history of art. We try to blend dimensions that are often irreconcilable, such as the popular, ancestral, artisanal, vernacular, and knowledge that is transmitted orally or by gestures. We propose to cast a gaze from the time and place in which we find ourselves, regarding the wide array of tangible and intangible manifestations and vestiges of our culture. To return to visitors the space between objects, the pauses in which they can breathe. To show the air.

Nuno Faria
CIAJG Artistic Director

José de Guimarães: Artist’ Life

José de Guimarães, 2006
I was born in Guimarães, Portugal (1939), a city which surrounded by its walls and fields back then, was medieval in its geography and its concepts.
I studied there until the fifth grade, at the lyceum, where my spare time was spent in visits to the few local museums.
One of them was an archaeologist’s association that, along with excellent library possessed a museum of archaeological findings and was responsible for the conservation of the archaeological site known as “ Citânia de Briteiros”.
This contact of mine with the region’s stones and nature turned me into an amateur archaeologist. I recall actually, a excavation campaign organized by the Universidade de Coimbra under the guidance of Prof. of the University of Oxford.
After finishing the fifth grade and a two-year stay in Braga to complete the seventh grade, I took off for Lisbon.
I was admitted to the Escola do Exercito (Military Academy) and, in the seven years of the engineering course, five of witch carried out at the Instituto Superior Técnico, I enrolled at the same time in the Sociedade de Gravadores Portugueses ( Association of Portuguese Engravers), the “Gravura”. That is when my passion for art began, and when I first entertained the idea of becoming a painter.
This was a productive time, full of accomplishments and contacts. This was in 1958 - I learnt the technics of engraving, I took my first steps in painting, I attended courses in Art History and, at the end of seven years I already possessed a primary baggage as a painter. Pop Art was the prevailing art movement.
In 1967, I set off on a military commission, to the former Portuguese colony of Angola. This was to be the beginning of an African experience/adventure that would last seven years. Coming to terms that the new continent, the cultural shock could not have been greater. However an uneasy start, I became very interested in discovering this new culture, witch was so different to my one western one, both in its ways of behaving and its concepts.
The artistic expression of the native populations could be seen as much in tribal art (for example, sculptures) as in tattoos or mural paintings, with their respective symbols and signs. These were sometimes more coded, while at other times more narrative, like those depicting certain domestic, synergetic or war scenes.
Unlike Western Art, the strong magical-religious aspect of the tribal art transforms artistic objects into utilitarian works of art used in rituals. In general they are very explicit sculptures, some more mysterious than others, which, dependindg in their particular ingredients (mirrors, nails, bones), may be very magical in their content. In the case of tattoos, which are very characteristic of African peoples, there are human body inscriptions with clearly magical purposes. There is also the painting of symbols that on the male body have the power to win wars and on the female body can invoke fertility, etc.
However this is not the sum of all artistic expression. On occasion, they become true processes of communication (ideographic in form), which function as if they involved the written word itself. I am referring to particular tribes from the Cabinda region in the north of Angola, like the Ngoyos, who communicated with each other vie ideographic signs on the lids of domestic utensils, such as terrines. This is a type of relief work with meanings that vary according to the image used in each message, as if they were proverbs with strong moral content that are more effective than the spoken word.
As I already mentioned, my first contact with this new culture was extremely difficult. I felt alien and incapable of understanding anything. This situation lasted approximately two years, and was made more troublesome due to a lack of comparative parameters or links that allowed the transportation of this huge conceptual difference.
However with the help of ethnologist friends, I was able to dedicate myself to the study of ethnography of Africa, Angola and the tribal art in general, which helped me better understand the content of African artistic expression that is based on cultural and sociological archetypes that are different of even the opposite of my own.

Portrait of José de Guimarães by Mestre Caçoila, 1961

From 1970 onwards, and with some knowledge of tribal art and a desire to use painting as a means of communication and understanding via a kind of cultural osmosis between the two cultures. I began to create an ideographic alphabet made up of around one hundred and forty graphic characters.
I can say that the most important transformation in my painting occurred after I began to understand African tribal art. Although it happens more in terms of content than forms, this transformation does not exclude the latter. This is what I wrote about this symbology in 1970: “Back art made me understand how to concentrate meaning and he mythical importance of forms. So in my paintings, form became a symbol and an agent of powerful intervention. In Africa, I saw how symbols were used and for what purpose. They are, in fact, the prerogative of great Ngoyo people of Cabinda, in the North of Angola, who used them so majestically on a daily basis. I appropriated part of their utility: more in terms of their rituals than of the meaning themselves.
The forms I gave them were generated and multiplied according to the pace of circumstances and the need to expand a vocabulary. With symbols; some nouns, other adjectives, some emancipated, others dependent; some generating others.
Their genesis took two years (1970-1972) which were years of anguish ant intense contact with the African world.
Only later there was dialogue and, with it, the chance of better understanding African culture and people. It was precisely in this way, via a mysterious and coded vocabulary, the only dialogue possible that I, as an European, was able to establish with that African world; a world boasting a powerfully intuitive culture and one that expresses itself in ways which carry considerable powers of intervention.”
Between 1970 and 1974 I created a body of work that I consider important to my artistic career and as the origin and root of all I do today. What I mean is that I began to create art was no longer the art of a European painter or an African painter, but rather an art that was miscegenation of two cultures. It was an art of ambiguity, so to speak; “morphemes”, as Gillo Dorfles called it; the transition between painting and sculpture; two-faced sculptures which provide double representation and double meaning.
The “African” alphabet, which others like Camonian, the Rubenesque, the Mexican, the Chinese followed, was always there in all of my artist work, even in the things I have done outside this period. It functioned as a kind of model or framework, in which other symbols and codes develop and progressed.
The passion for different cultures meant that I tried to surround myself with artist objects whenever possible, weather form pre-Hispanic culture, Chinese culture or African cultures. I remember that on my first stay in Angola I put together a small collection of tribal art, which is currently housed in the Sociedade Martins Sarmento Archaeology Museum in Guimarães. However, it was form the 1970s onwards that I started slowly but systematically collecting tribal art again, not only from Angola but from central Africa and from countries like Nigeria, Cameroon, Gabon, Mali, Burkina Faso, Sudan, Congo, Guinea, Ghana, the Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, which I continue to do do this day. Among them, I have things from the Mambilas, Mendes, Kanacas, Tshokwes, Baules, Yaures, Cabindas, Fangues, Bagas, Punos, Igbos, Markas, Bambaras, Dogons, Kotas, Noks, Yorubas, Yakas, Dans, Jukubs, etc., which today I create a dialogue together in my Lisbon and Paris Studios, and in the New Interactional Art Centre of Guimarães, as if they were temples.
My main aim as a collector is not simply to collect. There is another side that has to do with recognising and respecting another culture as someone Portuguese. Portugal sailed the oceans, found new worlds, mixed and created miscegenation – to some degree, my artistic work has followed the trail od past navigators, seeking and feeding off the cultures of other regions. It is this encounter with, and respect for other cultures, that makes me admire them, making me want to see and appreciate them at close quarters through their art!

António Palolo, Gracinda Candeias, António Ole, José de Guimarães and Luís Jardim, Luanda, 1967

I ended up in Angola by chance, just as by chance, years later, I travelled to Mexico and, for the same reasons, travelled around Asia (China and Japan) where, in 1989, I started fruitful collaboration which is still standing today, with new, very diverse future projects in the horizon. And what is curious is the fact that it was my childhood, spent in Guimarães, with its rural scenery, its rocks, its mountains, its popular manifestations, a blending of religion and paganism that dominated my spiritual concerns. Then came Africa, through native culture, its artistic manifestations, tribal art, the practices and rituals; Mexico with Maya and Aztec cultures, its literature, Juan Rulfo, death and eroticism, the inframundo (underworld), and the “Mexican Alphabet” from archetypes of the archaeological cultures. And, almost simultaneously the Japanese projects, namely in kushiro, which led me to the study of the Ainu people, of their traditions, the tattoos, the decorated garments, their animist beliefs and practices and, once again, the production of signs, symbols and ideographic forms that would support an extensive project of urban intervention. And it does not ends here. I could also mention, for instance, the current development of Setouchi (a project in seven islands of the Seto Inland Sea, in Japan), which once again has lead me to the sociological study of each one of the region’s islands in order to produce a series of urban objects, integrating a vast project oh rehabilitation with the international participation of architects and artists, presented in July 2010. The more than 400 pieces of public art spread around several regions of Japan are, in their entirely, the reflection that the anthropological approach is perhaps the best way to better understand my artist process, which is based on the creation of ideographic alphabets, originating in very distinct cultures, which is based on the creation of ideographic alphabets, originating very distinct cultures, which my travels have afforded me.

 José de Guimarães atelier, Luanda

In 1961, still a university student, I visited Paris for the first time, I stayed in a two-star hotel – the Hotel Istria- in Montparnasse. My stays in Paris became frequent. I recall having seen the great retrospective which France dedicated to Picasso in 1963 - this was probably one of the great thrills in my life.
Whenever I could, I would spend my holidays in that fantastic city where I could read, see and admire what was so scarce in Portugal. IN 1995 I settle into an old 17th century house in the Rue Quincampoix, which I restored.
Africa, Mexico and Asia(China and Japan) are my “remote cultures” that form the “structure of kinship” which Lévi-Strauss studied in depth; communitarian areas where my entire body of work has delved, whether in the discovery of archetypes, or the tribal consciousness that identifies and distinguishes them. The more recent works of the Brazil series bring that cycle to a close and meet up with their African roots.

We could summarise them thus:


The recent travels through Brazil have led me to the Yoruba people, African slaves that are the soul drive behind the foundation of Brazil.

Once again, the symbols of the African series (1972-74) are used in the recent works of the Brazil series, intersecting and merging with the Mexican “papeles picados” and the Chinese folk art, creating the weft that supports the structure of the painting or forming the architecture of the “Favelas” installations; piled up boxes where clowns and supermen peep through ideographic windows, amid vibrant neon hearts that generate the energy for a sort of latent global war.
Now that I have read Lévi-Strauss in depth, I am more convinced that everything started on the day when, in my youth, I was an amateur archaeologist and in the excavation sites I was appointed the task of carrying out reconstruction drawings of “terra sigillata” objects, of which we only possessed a few potsherds.

José de Guimarães

José de Guimarães


José de Guimarães was born in Guimarães in 1939, and since 1995 has been dividing his life between Lisbon and Paris.
A stay in Angola during the 1960s and 1970s was to become a determining vector in defining his artistic vocabulary, and the contact with specialists in African ethnology led him to the understanding of a symbology existent in many African art objects and suggested an artistic project driven by an effort to create an osmosis between two forms of visual expression, European and African.
Yet, if the first decade of artistic production was based in Africa, his more than forty years of work displays complete series focused on the Chinese and Japanese cultures, on the art of Rubens, the literature of Camões and the unique conception of death in Mexico. In the last few years, his path has reflected a tendentiously cosmopolitan vocation of forms and figures.
His visual expression has thus been highlighting the coexistence of all the dominant factors in a long artistic career and has privileged the light of neons and LEDs, especially in his wooden boxes, which propose an exterior of austerity in contrast with the scenographic setting of their interior space, fitted out with the luminous strokes of neons and LEDs, painting, collages and objects deflected from the meaning conferred by their traditional function.
Having held a vast number of exhibitions in several countries and, apart from earlier anthological exhibitions held at the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels (1984), at the Museo de Arte Moderno (Mexico City, 1987), at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian in Lisbon, and at the Fundação de Serralves in Porto (1992), he has been the subject of several anthological or retrospective exhibitions in Portugal (Cordoaria Nacional, Lisbon, 2001, and Fundação Carmona e Costa, Lisbon, 2012), in Germany (Museum Würth, Künzelsau, 2001), in Japan (Hillside Forum, Tokyo, 2002), in Switzerland (Art Forum Würth, Arlesheim and Chur, 2003), in Brazil (Fundação Cultural FIESP, 2005, and Museu Afro Brasil, Sao Paulo, 2006), Spain (Fundación Caixanova, 2003, and Museo Würth La Rioja, 2008), in Angola (Centro Cultural Português, Luanda, 2009), in Italy (Art Forum Würth, Rome, 2010), in Brussels (Espace Européen pour la Sculpture, 2007 e European Parliament, 2012) and in China (Museu Yan Huang, Beijing, 1994, Today Art Museum, Beijing, 2007, Suzhou Jinji Lake Art Museum, Suzhou, 2012 and Art Museum of Shaanxi Province in Xi’an, 2013).
In 2012 he was elected President of the National Society of Fine Arts of Lisbon.
In José de Guimarães International Arts Centre, he participated in the exhibitions: "Beyond History" (2012), "Lessons of Darkness" (2013) and "Contact Sheets" (2014).

His work, represented in the most relevant institutional collections in Portugal and a little all over the world, with special incidence in Japan and Germany, proposes crossovers with the art of non —Western civilizations — African, Chinese and Mesoamerican; a never-ending search for non-verbal relationships, which is also reflected in his practice as a collector, on which he has been focusing for several decades.