An unguided tour of Lisbon’s urban art

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Av Fontes Pereira de Melo – Top & 2nd row: Os Gemeos and Blu


Before coming to Lisbon, I was a bit clueless in regards to Lisbon’s street art scene. Over the last few years, I have been documenting street art during my travels and in London; and it brings me immense thrill when I stumble upon cool urban art pieces in the most unexpected places. I never do research beforehand nor do I search for them intentionally because I think this will spoil all the fun.

Nonetheless, it is almost impossible to miss the amazing street art in Lisbon because of its discernible presence! I was completely blown away by the scale and creativity, and as much as I love Lisbon’s museums and galleries, I think the best contemporary Portuguese art work is to be found on the streets!


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Av Fontes Pereira de Melo – Top: Erica Il Cane (Crocodile) and Lucy McLauchlan (birds); Bottom: Sam3


The ‘must-see’ destination has to be Av Fontes Pereira de Melo, where a cluster of derelict buildings is covered with giant art works created by a group of internationally-renowned street artists. When I saw the works while I was on the airport bus heading towards the city centre, I decided to make a special trip to visit the site one day.

I later found out that the project was initiated by Crono project (founded by Alexandre Farto/Vhils in 2010), which aimed to turn facades of abandoned buildings into masterpieces of contemporary art. Here are some of the artists involved in this project: Os Gemeos (Brazilian twins), Blu (Italian), Erica Il Cane (Italian), Lucy McLauchlan (British) and Sam3 (Spanish). It is necessary to stand on the other side of the street to appreciate these murals fully; unfortunately, I arrived late in the afternoon and the lighting was not ideal to capture these stunning art works.


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The Amoreiras Wall – Top: Nomen, Slap and Kurts; 2nd row: Nomen; 3rd row: The Nightmare Before Christmas by Kurts, Styler, Slap


Since I spent most of time in Lisbon on foot, it subsequently enabled me to come across some of the city’s marvelous street art by chance. My second surprise came when I discovered The Amoreiras Wall of Fame, an seemingly endless wall located between Amoreiras Shopping Centre and Marquês de Pombal Square. The graffiti started in 1995, and over the years, many of the original murals being painted over. But you can still find many outstanding murals created by famous local artists. My favourite is the mural of German chancellor Angela Merkel as a puppet master, holding the Portuguese Prime Minister and the Deputy Minister on strings. This was made by Nomen, Slap and Kurtz just before her visit to Lisbon in 2012. Highly political but brilliantly depicted.


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Alcântara tunnel


My third surprise came when I got off the train at Alcântara-Mar station and walked down to the underground tunnel. The last thing I expected to see was the entire tunnel covered with street art murals!

I later discovered that the project was initiated by Portuguese Association of Street Art (APAURB) as part of the regeneration of the area. About 400 local and international artists took part in this project, and I particularly like the wonderful murals of Lison’s streetscape. This project demonstrates how street art can rejuvenate even the grottiest areas or places in the cities, and I think more cities need to follow suit.


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Street art in Alcântara


Venturing outside of the station, you can see a diverse array of street art including calligraffiti by Dutch graffiti legend Niels ‘Shoe’ Meulman. However, Shoe’s original black and white work has since been painted over with purple and green spray with 2 words: ‘Hium’, ‘Quê?’ (see above).


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Since Lisbon is a colourful city, its street art is equally vibrant and playful. Aside from building facades, walls and underground tunnels, the city’s recycle bins are also used as canvases for street artists.

The concept was conceived by Galeria de Arte Urbana, founded in 2008 by Ines Machado as part of the regeneration plan of Bairro Alto for City Council of Lisbon. The City Council felt the need to create a site dedicated to street art, and wanted to open a dialogue with the street art community. The objective of gallery is to promote street art, and reject practices of vandalism and disrespectful actions towards other artistic works. The gallery believes that all of these artistic languages can co-exist in the urban landscape in a democratic manner, while emphasising the importance of cultural heritage preservation, conservation and restoration. I applaud Lisbon’s City Council for its open-minded attitude towards street art and graffiti; its tolerance and forward-mindset plainly put many other city councils to shame. And this applies particularly to many Asian cities where artistic expressions are regarded as vandalism, since they all compete to look as pristine and glossy as they possibly can. This image-control attitude reveals how different the paradigm of  ‘democracy’ is interpreted in the Eastern and Western societies.


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Walking around Lisbon, you are mostly likely to come across the ‘signatures’ of different street artists including a yellow cat by Monsieur Chat from France and a yellow pencil character ( though I am not sure who the artist is).


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Street and urban art in tiles


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Street art in Cascais – 3rd & 4th left: Diogo Machado; 4th right & 5th row: Easp; 5th & bottom rows: Dalaiama


In the seaside resort town of Cascais, I also discovered some intriguing street art and one of them was an odd-looking derelict house that appeared to be covered in blue and white azulejo.

Seeing it from afar, I was curious and so I walked over to have a proper look… it was then I realised that the azulejo was in fact a mural rather than ceramic tiles! This impressive work was created by a local artist Diogo Machado (also known as Add Fuel), who is well-known for his distinctive and quintessentially ‘Portuguese’ azulejo-inspired street art pieces. I have never seen anything like this before and I absolutely love it!

Other notable graffiti artists’ work in Cascais include Easp and Dalaiama (look out for the black pacman-like character with birds).

Like London, Lisbon offers many guided street tours, but I still recommend exploring on your own if time is not a constraint. It is enjoyable and full of unexpected surprises that will make you ‘see’ the city in a different light.


Streetscape of Lisbon

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I don’t believe in love at first sight; lust or instant attraction perhaps, whereas love I believe requires time to develop. Nonetheless, I have fallen in love with many cities on my first visit throughout the years, like New York, Berlin, Venice, Antwerp, Tokyo, Helsinki, Porto and Lisbon etc. My relationships with these cities would change over time (if I get to return again), and my ‘love’ would increase or decrease based on my experiences and expectations.

Even though Lisbon is an international and cosmopolitan city, it somehow still retains the charm (thankfully, not provincial) of a smaller city. It is laid-back (or ‘slow’ compared to New York/London), hospitable, retro and slightly run-down. It lacks glitz and glamour, yet its characteristics shine through, which makes it feel somewhat authentic and honest.

I think Lisbon reminds of the old London, a time when Londoners were more individualistic, creative, effortless and laid-back ( yes, I am sounding more like an old fart these days). London has undoubtedly lost its edge and charm in the past decade or so; although it is more cosmopolitan and ‘happening’ these days, it is also more stressful, commercial, crowded, trend-driven and segregated. This is not what I consider as ‘cool’ or as the Mayor relentlessly proclaims: ‘the greatest cities on earth’.


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To appreciate Lisbon fully, it is necessary to walk (mostly uphill) or take the tram. You are unlikely to get bored because there is always something quirky or interesting that would grab your attention.


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When I arrived in Lisbon, it was just days after the Charlie Hebdo terrorist attack took place, and I could see the conspicuous ‘support’ shown by the citizens of Lisbon in the streets at different areas of the city.


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The Portuguese also share something in common with Asian people esp. the Chinese, and it is their habit of hanging laundry outdoor! The sights of laundry being hung outside of houses/ flats/ even on the pavements are ubiquitous in China, yet similar sights can be seen on the streets of Lisbon and Porto. Though what is surprising is how meticulous these articles are being hung… often according to sizes, categories and sometimes even colours! I think the Portuguese are qualified to publish books on the art of laundry hanging!


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I am aware that the economical downturn has hit Portugal hard, and when I spoke to the locals, they complained that many young people have moved to cities like London for better job opportunities. I guess this is understandable. Nevertheless, I believe that when the economy of a city/country suffers, it also empowers the citizens to unite, think more creatively and contribute more towards the community or society as a whole for improvements.

And being an artistic and cultural city like Lisbon, one of the best way to express the citizens’ frustrations, disappointments, aspirations, passion and creativity is through art… namely street art, which I will cover in my next entry.


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Portuguese doors, windows & tiles

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I have a slight obsession with doors and windows of façades, as well as staircases. I can’t remember exactly when I started photographing them, but I took the ‘mission’ slightly more seriously over the past few years esp. during my travels. I must have taken hundreds of photos over the years from Seoul to Berlin, to Singapore etc as I find these architectural details extremely fascinating. If we think of fashion as a means of a personal expression, then perhaps the façade of a building is not so dissimilar.


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In Portugal, there is a diverse array of architectural styles that can be seen on the streets. Hence, I thoroughly enjoyed walking up/down the hilly cobbled streets and taking photographs of windows, doors and the conspicuous tile-covered houses. These architectural details not only reflect the styles and trends of the a certain period (i.e. art deco and art Nouveau), they also reveal the distinctive tastes of the architects or owners.


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The introduction of azulejos/tiles from Spain in the early 16th century by King Manuel I profoundly changed the streetscape of Portugal. Originally this ornamental art form was applied onto the walls and façades of monasteries and churches by master-designers (Porto has some outstanding examples of them); but thanks to the industrialisation of decorative tiles and new methods like transfer-printing, decorating houses with azulejos became fashionable from the 19th century onwards. Now we can still see a startling range of azulejos on building façades when we walk down the streets in cities like Lisbon, Porto and in smaller towns too.


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Although many of these kaleidoscopic azulejos seen on the streets are printed rather than hand-painted, their artistic value should not be underestimated. And most importantly, they convey a sense of vibrancy and individuality to the streetscape of the cities/towns, making them utterly charming and unique.


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Portuguese crafts and designs

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Magetica magazine gallery at Cidadela art district, showcasing knitted creations by Urostigre; Bottom right: Gosto D’Africa


One of the (many) reasons why I love Portugal is that it is immensely artistic. Art can be seen everywhere, from street art to azulejos in churches; and the Portuguese particularly excel in handicrafts, which has been passed down from its tradition. Designing and making things appear to be an innate trait of the Portuguese, and during my travel, I came across many beautiful locally-made crafts and designs that combine natural materials, traditional craftsmanship with a contemporary touch (or humour).

In Cascais, I stumbled upon a New year arts and crafts market on its last day near the seafront, and I had an interesting chat with the father and daughter team selling a colourful range of jewellery and fashion accessories inspired by African prints, motifs and patterns. I later learned that the designer behind the Lisbon-based Gosto D’Africa is in fact the wife of the vendor. After rummaging around the stall for a while, I eventually bought a scarf with African print on one side and fleece on the other for €14. A bargain for a handmade and unique item!

And while I was at Cidadela art district, I was enchanted by the knitted animal heads/hats display in one of the galleries/shops, Magetica magazine. Urostigre was founded by Lisbon-based artist and knitter Sónia Pessoa, who created an animal that is half bear (urso) and half tiger (tigre). She uses eco-friendly yarn for her fashion and accessory creations, which often features this imaginative ‘bear tiger’ animal. You can view her one of a kind creations above or via her website.


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Top left, 2nd & 3rd rows: Gente Da Minha Terra


In Evora, most of the handicrafts shops are concentrated on Rua 5 de Outubro before the Cathedral. There are souvenir shops selling fashion and home accessories made of local cork ( Portugal is well known for their cork designs), local wine and azulejos etc. One shop in particular stands out from the crowd, and it is Gente Da Minha Terra (no.39). Although the shop is not very big, it has a fantastic range of locally made contemporary crafts and design objects including stationery, woolen blankets, and even donkey milk soap wrapped in sheep’s wool (see above)!



Top & 2nd rows: Associação Sócio Cultural Terapêutica de Évora; 3rd left: products made of cork; 3rd right: handmade pouch & phone cover


Another shop that caught my attention was A Mo on Rua Vasco da Gama 2. The shop itself resembles a kitchen, and so I was curious to find out what was inside when I walked past it.

Once inside, I was surrounded by wooden toys, kids’ furniture and all sorts of cute and lovely handicrafts. I spoke to the lady in the shop and she explained to me that the shop is part of Associação Sócio Cultural Terapêutica de Évora, a private institution for Social Solidarity and it provides therapeutic activities for people with mental disability. The arts and crafts are made by the community in the institute’s studios. And as a small gesture of supporting good cause, I eventually bought two handmade accessories as souvenir to give to my friends back home.


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 Traditional ceramics, tiles and textiles


Back in Lisbon, the newest and coolest crafts and designs shopping destination is Embaixada (which I will write more about in my future entry) in Principe Real. Here, you can find a wide range of contemporary crafts that are inspired by the traditional heritage and culture (including ceramic pasteis de nata for those who adores it). Further down the street, there is also Lisbonlovers, which sells crafts and designs that are inspired by the charming city.

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Top & 4th rows: Embaixada; 3rd row: Lisbonlovers


London Mime festival 2015 & more

While I am still sorting out my photo collection and blog entries on Portugal, I shall review some amazing performances that I saw after my holiday at the London International Mime festival in January. Luckily, I had pre-booked the tickets in advanced, because most of the shows I saw were sold out weeks before the performances.

The first show I saw was ‘Plexus’ at Sadlers Wells, conceived by French artistic director Aurélien Bory (founder of Compagnie 111) for the extraordinary Japanese classically-trained ballet dancer Kaori Ito.

The description of the show is as follows: “Entrapped by five thousand cords, a forest of brilliantly lit strings, a warrior-woman conquers her environment so that she floats, like a black angel, in a sumptuous cage that she can only leave by vanishing completely.”

The above paragraph basically sums up the show. Ito spends most of the performance being ‘trapped’ within the stage set of five thousand cords, where she uses her body to explore the space and her body limits. Ito is utterly mesmerising to watch, but my opinion, it is the stunning set design and visual effects that steals the show. There is no narrative to this poetic and beautiful piece, but it is so visually compelling that one is not necessary. It is an artistic and creative triumph for both Bory and Ito.


 Plexus / Compagnie 111 / Aurélien Bory / Kairo Ito


I had no idea what was in store at ‘Dogugaeshi‘, except that it is inspired by traditional Japanese folk puppetry. Basil Twist is a third generation Americian puppeteer who has worked for films, operas, Broadway shows, and collaborated with Kate Bush on her comeback concert in 2014.

I was kinda expecting to watch a puppetry performance, possibly with a narrative. Yet the puppetry turns out to be the side dish, whereas the backdrop screens are the main course. What a pleasant surprise! There is only one puppet (a white fox with a very long tail) and not much of a narrative; what the audience sees throughout the performance is merely a constant changing of paper door screens and wall patterns, which is unexpectedly mesmerising. The abstract piece is accompanied by live shamisen music performed by Japanese musician Yumiko Tanaka.

The name ‘Dogugaehi‘ literally means ‘changing, or exchange of props‘ in Japanese. This stage mechanism serves as a backdrop to the traditional folk puppet theatre originated on the Awaji island at the beginning in the 16th or 17th century. Video projection is one of the modern elements that Basil Twist injected into his version of this traditional craft, and it works wondrously. The piece captures the intrinsic essence of the tradition, and it is an intriguing succession of visual experiences, which is refreshing and rare to see in western theatre.


Dogugaeshi by Basil Twist


It is hard to summarise ‘32 Rue Vandenbrandenby Belgian’s dance theatre group Peeping Tom. It is surreal, fun, bizarre, dark, and rather confusing. The hypersurreal setting and odd/dysfunctional behaviour of the six cast members seem to capture the audience’s imagination initially, but as it turns darker and more subdue, the plot becomes weaker and the ending is an anticlimax which I think is a real shame. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the performances by the actors/dancers; their physical capabilities are remarkable and their use of body language reveals that speech is not always necessary in getting ideas across, even if they are exaggerated or make no sense!


32 Rue Vandenbranden by Peeping Tom


Besides the London Mime festival, I also saw two excellent dance performances elsewhere in London. The first was a triple bill dance performance by K-Arts dance company, established by Korea National University of Arts in 1997. The performance took place at Laban Theatre, which is part of the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of music and dance in Greenwich.

The three performances of the evening were: ‘Hommage‘, ‘Reflection‘ and ‘No comment‘. ‘Hommage‘ is a piece that explores the traditional ‘bow’ of the eastern culture; it is a ‘fusion’ (I am not a fan of this term) of eastern culture, philosophy and metaphor (Buddhism) with contemporary choreographed dance movements. It is a subtle, beautiful and supple.

Reflection‘ is short improvisation piece created by the dancers (mostly female), exploring his or her body movements and expressions in a unique way. The last piece ‘No comment‘ is the most exhilarating of the three, performed by a all-male cast (who ended up running topless off stage). One notable aspect of this piece is the music, the tracks used are ‘Ali Mullah‘ by Transglobal Underground and ‘Babylon‘ by Goran Bregovic (one of my favourite contemporary composers). This is a truly ‘global’ piece with dancers showcasing their technical skills, vigorous style and six-pack bodies!

The diversity and originality of the three pieces reveal the standard of contemporary Korean dance today, and it is truly thrilling. One of the strongest aspect for me personally is the choreography, I think the subtle infusion of eastern philosophy and culture is evident even in the seemingly modern pieces, but without the cliches. This show was an eye-opener for me, and I hope that I will get more opportunities to see young Koreans dancers performing on stage in London again soon.


Can a dance performance which debuted in 1987 still excite the audience 28 years later? The answer is YES, as seen in ‘What The Body Does Not Remember’ performed by Belgian’s dance company Ultima Vez founded by choreographer/ Photographer/filmmaker Wim Vandekeybus.

With a new cast and live music by contemporary ensemble Ictus, the award-winning debut piece performed for two nights only at Sadlers Wells as part of their world tour. Divided into several acts with no interval, the adrenaline-fuelled performance is not only exciting, it is raw, innovative, playful and unsettling. There is so much going on on stage that I could do with an extra pair of eyes to follow everything that is happening at once.

I am amazed by the fact that it still feels so fresh and modern after so many years. One of the highlights of the show is at its very end after the applause, when three members of the musical ensemble come on stage to perform without any musical instruments. What a perfect finale to an unforgettable show!


Ultima Vez — What the Body Does Not Remember



Art & design exhibitions in Portugal (Jan 2015)

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 Casa Das Historias Paula Rego


Lisbon offers an abundance of world class museums and galleries, and on my previous trip, my friend and I visited some excellent ones like National Museum of Ancient Art, National Tile Museum, Fado Museum and the wonderful Puppet Museum. On this trip though, the seaside resort Cascais turned out to be a prodigious surprise for me. Aside from Casa Das Historias Paula Rego, I did not have any concrete plan for the day, and yet I ended having quite an ‘art-full’ day!

The highlight of the day was undoubtedly Portuguese artist Paula Rego‘s stunningly-designed museum. It was impossible to miss the earthy red pyramid-shaped towers from a distance! Designed by Portuguese architect and Pritzker Architecture Prize winner, Eduardo Souto de Moura (chosen by Rego herself), the building was inspired by the region’s historical architecture (i.e. the twin chimneys of the National Palace in the nearby Sintra) and it is surrounded by a lush garden.

Architecture aside, the museum’s current exhibition is ‘Parodies – Paula Rego/ Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro’ (until 12th April), a non-illustrative dialogue between the works of the two artists, separated by over a century, yet both express a critical view of the Portuguese life and customs of their times through their art.

Rego and Bordalo Pinheiro‘s works share a great deal in common despite living in two completely different era. Both artists’ works frequently feature humanised animals and animalised humans; they are dark, perspicacious, critical with a sense of sarcastic humour. This is a thought-provoking exhibition that reveals the creativity of two important Portuguese artists and how they used/use art to express their critical voices towards politics and society.


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Centro Cultural de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Bryan Adams exposed; 4th & 5th rows: Carlos Marques; Bottom middle & right: Painted glasses of red hall


After some random sightseeing, I stumbled upon a massive dark pink building, which turned out to be the Centro Cultural de Cascais. Housed inside the former 19th century Palace of the Viscondes da Gandarinha, the centre has been turned into an art centre with permanent and temporary exhibitions. While I was there, I saw the photography exhibition ‘Bryan Adams exposed’ (which I missed in London) and discovered the singer’s talent in creating powerful images through the lenses. Downstairs, there was also a fascinating exhibition by Portuguese artist Carlos Marques, who created a set of shrines dedicated to different artists as his tribute towards them.

Next door at the Casa Duarte Pinto Coelho, there is a small but intriguing exhibition “Painted glasses of red hall” (until April), which showcases some East-meets-West paintings from 18th century China. The production of glass and painted mirrors were introduced to China by Jesuit missionary G. Castiglioni in the early 18th century, and soon after glass paintings developed into a highly skilled art form in China. These works were commissioned by Europeans, and they were intended primarily to satisfy the West’s passion for Eastern-inspired products. Although glass-blades were produced in Europe, particularly in England, they were being sent to the factories of Guangzhou in China where they were painted after returning to the Western market. This manufacturing process is not so different from how things are made today in the 21st century! Perhaps the world has not changed THAT much after all!


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Cidadela art district


As I was walking down the road back towards the town centre, the Cidadela art district signage by the old fortress wall caught my eye and so I decided to explore the district ‘hidden’ behind it. The art district is part of the Pousada de Cascais, Cidadela Historic Hotel set within the walls of the historical fortress of the emblematic 16th century Citadel of Cascais. The Art District comprises six galleries, including six Open Studios where artists can be seen during their creative processes.


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Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais – 2nd & 3rd rows: Frenéticas no pós-guerra exhibition; Bottom row: Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória 


Within the same square, there is the Palácio da Cidadela de Cascais, a former summer palace for the Portuguese monarchy until 1910 when the country became Republic. Neglected for fifty years, restoration and renovation work by the architect Pedro Vaz was commissioned by the President of the Republic, and the palace was opened to the public in 2011. The former palace now serves as the summer residence of the President of the Republic, but the public can visit it when it is not being occupied. Usually a minimum party of two is required for a guided tour around the palace, but the friendly staff kindly offered to show me around, hence I was able to enjoy a private tour of the palace with a humourous and knowledgable guide.

Due to the recent renovation, the palace looks newer than most other palaces that I have visited. One notable aspect is that the wall hangings are mostly contemporary art works including some unfinished tapestry drafts. This is highly unusual but quite refreshing to see as most palaces are just filled with old Master paintings or simply ‘old’ paintings. Another surprise is that Eastern-style objects and antiqes are ubiquitous; from tiles to furniture, lighting and decorative pieces, this again reveals the Portuguese’s passion for Eastern style as previously seen at the glass painting exhibition earlier. The tour ended at the stunning baroque style Capela de Nossa Senhora da Vitória, with azulejos on both sides of the walls depicting Portugal’s glory past.

The palace also hosts temporary exhibitions, and during my visit, I saw ‘Frenéticas no pós-guerra’, an exhibition showcasing more than 100 articles, objects and original documents from the 1920s post war period in Portugal. The main focus was on women and so there was an interesting selection of fashion garments, accessories and some wonderful art deco style objects on display.



A free exhibition of Christmas trees made by recycled materials in Cascais


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Top row: Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista in Evora; Bottom two rows: a paper craft exhibition at Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval


In the historical town of Evora opposite the Temple of Diana stands a beautiful 15th century church, Igreja de Sao Joao Evangelista, which belonged to the monastery Convento dos Lóios. Now the monastery has been converted into a historical hotel Pousada dos Loios and the church became part of Palácio dos Duques de Cadaval.

It would be hard not to be awestruck by the church’s sublime floor-to-ceiling of blue azulejos by António Oliveira Bernardes (early 1700s), which depict scenes from the life of São Lourenço Justiniano, founder of the Lóios order. This church is considered to be one of the most beautiful private churches in the country, and it certainly does not disappoint. The palace next door however, is pleasant enough and has some interesting art work and artifacts, but it lacks the grandeur that one would expect from a ‘palace’. Without much antipication, I followed a set of narrow staircase that led me up to the attic… which turned out to be the space for a temporary exhibition called ‘Four corners of the world’. The die-cut cardboard installation of architecture from around the world was not what I was expecting and it immediately brought a smile to my face.


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Top & 2nd rows: Fórum Eugénio de Almeida – As high as the eye can reach exhibition; Bottom: Carriage Collection


After visiting the historical Cathedral and its museum, I decided to skip Museu de Évora and opted for something more contemporary opposite – Forum Eugenio de Almeida. The contemporary art and cultural centre was endowed by the privately-owned Eugénio de Almeida Foundation, as part of the scheme to regenerate and restore the city of Évora.

Their current exhibition ‘As high as the eye can reach‘ (until 15th March) proposes a cross-reading between sacred art and contemporary art, marking the culmination of more than a decade of inventorying the artistic heritage of the Archdiocese of Évora and dissemination of contemporary art. The exhibition approaches the question of the relationship between art and transcendence in the past and present day. This is an ambitious exhibition, however, the lack of context esp. with the contemporary art works was an issue for me. Perhaps I am biased as I am not a big fan of contemporary art, but instead of feeling stimulated, I left the exhibition feeling somewhat apathetic. I applaud the curators’ effort in tackling a subject that is quite inscrutable and provocative, though I think they have only scratched the surface of a complex subject.

The foundation also owns the nearby Páteo de S. Miguel, a group of buildings including the Paço dos Condes de Basto (the Palace of the Counts of Basto), the Eugenia de Almeida Archive and Library, the Coach Collection and the S. Miguel Chapel. The palace, library and archive can be visited by appointment with a guide, whereas the Carriage Collection is open to all. The small Carriage Collection has an interesting display of coaches, carriages and harnesses of different styles and traveling from the 18th and 19th centuries.


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 Museu do Artesanato e do Design


On the other side of town, I walked past the Museu do Artesanato e do Design (Museum of craft and design) and was curious to see what was inside. The museum is not very big, but the display includes a wide range of locally made crafts, ceramics and furniture etc. Aside from local crafts, there is another section that displays an impressive selection of household and industrial objects designed by world-renowned designers like Dieter Rams, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck and Kenneth Grange etc. It’s not exactly MOMA, but it is worth visiting if you happen to be doing some sightseeing nearby.


Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation

Museu Calouste Gulbenkian


Back in Lisbon, I was keen to visit one of Portugal’s best museums, Museu Calouste Gulbenkian as I missed it on my last trip. I did not anticipate to spend most of my day there (but I did), and so I ended up feeling like I had completed an epic art marathon. I had not realised that the museum is connected to Centro de Arte Moderna, and the complex is enormous, so be prepared to spend hours here! At the museum, the ‘A Shared History: Treasures of the Royal Palaces of Spain‘ exhibition showcased significant art works and artifacts from the Spanish monarchy spanning 350 years. The historical ties between Portugal and Spain could be seen at this exhibition through portraits, drawings, paintings, furniture and even decorative objects.


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Centro de Arte Moderna – Top two, 4th middle & right, 6th left: António Dacosta; 4th left: Paula Rego’s ‘The Vivian Girls as Windmills forms’ & 5th row: Paula Rego’s ‘Proles wall’; 6th row right: Julio Pomar’s ‘Le Luxe’; 7th & 8th rows: Salette Tavares


At the Centro de Arte Moderna, there were several exhibitions taking place at the same time including: ‘António Dacosta 1914 I 2014‘, ‘Salette Tavares: Spatial Poetry‘ and the ongoing ‘Arshile Gorky and the Collection‘ (until 31st May). It was a great opportunity to see the retrospective of Portuguese artist António Dacosta, and a small selection of works by Arshile Gorky. However, it was Portuguese artist Salette Tavares‘ (1922-1994) work that blew me away. I have never heard of this artist before, but her visual exploration of text and poems still seems ground-breaking in today’s standards. I love the fact that she experimented with a wide range of media and materials, I am merely astonished that she was not as recognised internationally.



Shadows of Asia at Museu do Oriente


The Portuguese first established their roots in India around 1500, and gradually they moved eastwards and became a dominant powerhouse in the region through force, religion and trade. Even today, we can see the influences and imprints left by the empire in their former colonies like Goa, Malacca, Macau, and Nagasaki in Japan. Not many people acknowledge that the beloved Japanese tempura (the Portuguese version: Peixinhos da horta) was introduced by Portuguese Jesuit missioneries when they founded Nagasaki during the 16th century. And the popular Chinese egg tarts that are ubiqutious in Hong Kong and Macau today can also trace its origin back to the Portuguese custart tarts (pastel de nata).

Opened in 2008, the Museu do Oriente is situated in a massive former 6-storey factory used for the processing of salted cod (bacalhau) by the port in Alcântara. Originally designed by Portuguese architect João Simões Antunes in the 1940s, Carrilho da Graça Arquitectos was commissioned to convert the factory to a museum containing a collection of artworks from Portugal’s Asian colonies. The museum has an impressive array of historical artifacts, paintings, furniture, crafts and puppetry and over 13.000 pieces were donated in 1999 by Paris’ Musée Kwok on after its closure.

I have never seen such an extensive range of shadow theatre puppets before. The permanent collection here is diverse and extraordinary, and the collection focuses on China, India, Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malasia and Turkey where shadow theatre played was seen as a highly significant form of folk art.


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Top right: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ and the rest: Lisbon impact by Deviprasad C Rao 


The two temporary exhibitions that took place while I was there were: ‘Woven Languages / Linguagens Tecidas’ on traditional ikat textiles from Indonesia; and ‘Lisbon impact’, a solo exhibition of Lisbon-inspired art works created by self-taught Indian artist, sculptor and muralist, Deviprasad C Rao. The artist created his perspective on Lisbon through abstract drawings, paintings, photographs and a video installation. His works capture the city’s vivid colours, density, geography, architecture and essence stupendously and it is hard not to be amazed by his metculous abstract streetscape of Lisbon.


From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty

Museu do Design e da Moda – ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ 


Housed in a historical building that used to be the headquarters of the bank BNU in the city centre, it is worth visiting the MUDE (Museu do Design e da Moda) for its architecture/ interiors alone. The building has had several major transformations, first in the 1920s by architect Tertuliano Marques and then by Modernist architect Cristino da Silva in the 1960s. The third transformation took place around 2001 but the project was abolished after its interiors had been demolished. Finally in 2008, Lisbon City Council acquired the building and commissioned Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos to create a new contemporary space while conserving the historical elements.

The ‘deconstructed’ museum space reminds me of Paris’ Palais de Tokyo where the concrete structure is exposed rather than being painted over. The industrial rawness allows the design objects and colourful fashion articles to stand out more. And this is best demonstrated at one of its current exhibition ‘De Matrix a Bela Adormecida’ or ‘From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty’ (until 29 March), which showcases around 300 pieces (clothing, hair props, jewellery and shoes) designed by Portuguese set designer, costume designer and artist, António Lagarto. The stunning dresses, architecture and lighting all work brilliantly (see above), creating a theatrical effect that is immensely captivating.


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Museum of design and fashion – Top row: From Matrix to Sleeping Beauty


The ground floor of the museum houses its permanent collection, providing a chronological history of design through its display of fashion items, furniture and other classic design objects. I was lucky to be able to catch the two Japanese-themed exhibitions before it ended: ‘Naked shapes‘ and ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘.

At the ‘Boro: Fabric of life‘, 54 pieces of kimonos, purses and tatamis created by the traditional Japanese technique Boro method were on display. The technique consists of stitching and weaving different fabrics together (like patchwork) and subsequently dyed with indigo. The technique was employed especially by peasants from the late eighteenth century to mid-twentieth century. It also embodies the Japanese motto of ‘mottainai‘ or ‘waste not‘ as it creates garments that are eco-friendly and practical.

At ‘Naked shapes‘, I was thrilled to see the 200 aluminium household objects, home appliances, furniture, and toys manufactured in Japan between 1910 and 1960. The minimalist designs reflect the Japanese aesthetic values perfectly, and the beauty of these objects lies in its simplicity and bareness. Functionality, craftsmanship and material are the priorities here, and so little design is required for their creations. I am sure that design guru Dieter Rams would appreciate them too!

Last but not least is the exhibition on eyewear ‘Behind the shadows (until 29th March) in the basement of the museum. The setting of the exhibition is the highlight because over 400 vintage eyewear are displayed inside the safety deposit boxes behind the bullet-proof steel door! It is no doubt one of the coolest exhibition venue that I have come across, what a playful and cool idea!


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Atelier Museu Julio Pomar


The best thing about Lisbon is that you can wander around the city and you will always come across something interesting. After a disappointing visit at the Casa Fernando Pessoa, I came across Atelier Museu Julio Pomar by chance, which I think is a well hidden gem in the city.

Housed inside a former warehouse, the spacious and bright museum was designed by the same architects behind MUDE, Ricardo Carvalho + Joana Vilhena Arquitectos (see above). The collection here includes paintings, sculptures, drawings, prints, ceramics, collages and assemblage by Portuguese neo-expressionist artist, Julio Pomar. On the ground floor, there are many of the artist’s delightful woodblock prints, while the larger and more abstract paintings are upstairs. You can also find his other well-known works at the Centro de Arte Moderna (see ‘Le luxe‘ above).


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British Council: 3rd row: The tile panel at the entrance by José António Jorge Pinto


Being curious can be a positive trait as it often brings me surprises (pleasant or not)! I was intrigued by a pink building as I was walking uphill in Estrela district (which has strong British roots and connections), and when I saw the British Council sign, I decided to go inside to explore further. After walking past the gate, I was immediately drawn towards the two long panels of azulejos that depict rural farming scenes from the past. I later found out that they were designed by José António Jorge Pinto, a Portuguese Art Noveau artist.

The current site of the Coucil was once the Palácio do Menino de Ouro, and it was acquired by the British Council in 1942. This historical building has quite a fascinating story behind it. Originally built by José Luís Seixas Fernandes in 1885, who was a collector of art and porcelain, and therefore transformed his home into a private art museum for himself. Three years after his death in 1925, the building was purchased by Alves dos Reis, a famous fraudster/criminal who printed counterfeit notes in London (of all places!) in the name of Banco de Portugal (Bank of Portugal). Considered to be one of the largest frauds in history, the ‘Portuguese bank note crisis‘ has inspired TV series in Portugal and Italy in recent years.

Once inside, I asked the receptionist if it was possible for me to visit the building and she said ‘fine’ as long as I didn’t take photographs inside. And to my surprise, the building is filled with works of art by an amazing array of famous artists including a huge painting by Paula Rego (who studied and lives in London) in the foyer. Currently on display is a selection of British contemporary art in the last 60 years, and you can find works by Damien Hirst, Rachel Whiteread and Julian Opie etc.

Unfortunately, aside from the structure, foyer and main staircases, most of the rooms have been turned into MFI style offices and classrooms except for the former music room (now a conference room) at the back. The room has wooden panels, exquisite early 20th century tiles made by the Sarreguemines factory in France, and some exceptional stained glass windows.

After my self-guided tour, the receptionist urged me to visit the garden at the back. As I expected, the garden is well-maintained with some outdoor sculptures, a traditional well, lemon trees, exotic plants and a lovely groomed hedge around the back stairs.

This British Council must be one of best hidden gems in Lisbon as it is not even listed in guide books! This is the reason why a guide book is not needed to explore Lisbon, all you need are a pair of comfortable shoes (for walking up hilly cobbled streets) and your eyes, then you will uncover a city that is full of history, beauty and charm.