Under our radar: Paula Rego, Obedience and Defiance
Obedience and Defiance
National Galleries of Scotland (Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Modern Two)
The exhibition runs from 23 November 2019 until 19 April 2020
The first major retrospective of Paula Rego’s (b.1935) work to be shown in Scotland is to be held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art this winter. The exhibition, Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance, confronts topical issues such as gender discrimination, poverty, abortion, female genital mutilation (FGM), political tyranny and the death of civilians in war. Further works in the exhibition begin with memories of the artist’s childhood in Portugal and other lived experiences, often responding to stories from literature, cinema, folklore, mythology and art history.
Rego is one of the most important artists living in Britain today. She is celebrated for her outstanding and suggestive story-telling abilities. Obedience and Defiance spans over fifty years of her international career, from the 1960s to the 2010s. It features more than 80 works, lent from public and private collections, including gifts from the artist to her friends.
Rego is admired for her courageous exploration of moral challenges to humanity. Current affairs have led to some of her most powerful works, such as the 1998 referendum on legalising abortion in Portugal, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by the United States and its allies and, from 2008, FGM. This will be the first time paintings addressing political and social repression in Portugal in the 1960s, under the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, will be shown in Scotland.
Highlights of the exhibition include:
- Salazar Vomiting the Homeland (1960) which protests against the authoritarian regime of Salazar, prime minister of the country between 1932 and 1968
- Dancing Ostriches (1995) inspired by Walt Disney’s 1940 film Fantasia and the comic sequence of animated ostriches, hippos, elephants and alligators ballet-dancing. Rego’s sweaty protagonist drawn from a surrogate self-portrait, her assistant Lila Nunes, appears 18 times.
- Angel (1998), is Rego’s imagining of the revenge of the Father Amaro’s disgraced girlfriend, Amélia, in the controversial Portuguese novel of 1875, The Crime of Father Amaro by José Maria de Eça de Quierós and indeed, all women thus wronged.
- Untitled No. 4 (1998) from Rego’s Abortion series, made in response to the failure of Portugal’s 1998 referendum to legalise the procedure; a second referendum in 2007 was successful.
- War (2003), triggered by a newspaper photograph taken after a bomb explosion in Basra, Iraq, employing disfigured, hybrid animal-humans
- Painting Him Out (2011) which reverses the traditional relationship between a male artist and his female muse
Paula Rego: Obedience and Defiance has been curated by the distinguished art historian and former director of the Whitechapel Gallery, London, Catherine Lampert, who has been friends with Rego for thirty years. It comes to Scotland following a very successful run at MK Gallery in Milton Keynes and will tour from Edinburgh to IMMA (Irish Museum of Modern Art) in Dublin.
Speaking about the exhibition, Curator, Lampert, said: “It is tempting to focus on the moral, political and narrative significance and the meaningful details of a single work or a series, however, seeing Paula Rego’s paintings on the wall, to me they appear so grand and museum-like, more like nuanced, mesmerising portraits of the people closest to her.”
Speaking about Rego, Simon Groom, Director of Modern and Contemporary Art at the NGS, said: “We are delighted to be showing this major body of work by one of the world’s most extraordinary artists. Over the course of her lifetime, Rego has shown herself to be an unflinching witness of her times, and one of the most imaginative and compelling image-makers of her generation. She is one of the few artists that consistently speaks of and for her times.”
Rego has generously made a limited edition print from her Abortion series available for sale during the exhibition, to support NGS. A major new publication will accompany the exhibition with texts by Catherine Lampert and the American writer and novelist Kate Zambreno, published by ART/BOOKS, see nationalgalleries.org for further details.
About the artist:
Born in Lisbon in 1935, Rego trained at the Slade School of Fine Art in London. She is one of Europe’s most influential contemporary figurative artists. A contemporary of Frank Auerbach and David Hockney, Rego’s work is represented in many public collections including the Tate Gallery, British Museum, National Gallery, London, the Calouste Gulbenkian Museum, Lisbon and the Serralves Museum, Porto. A museum dedicated to Rego, Casa das Histórias, opened in Cascais, Portugal in 2009. She is represented by Marlborough Fine Art.
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