Cristina Rodrigues’ retrospective at Centro de Cultura Contemporânea in Castelo Branco sits well in the historic Portuguese town that boasts of a rich and varied textile heritage. While reviving the declining age-old tradition, Rodrigues brings into the mix a cross-cultural confluence that bring to the fore diverse contemporary concerns.
The exhibition draws one in through the stark uses of primary colours that offset the austere interiors of the expansive space. They catch the eye, giving an indication of lives that are lived and lost, evoking ideas of remembrances and things forgotten.
Collaboration is at the center of Rodrigues’ practice. She weaves together different cultures, referencing a synergetic process that brings together societies and craftsmen. Many of the traditional motifs that find their way into her works can trace their origins back to Southern India and China. ‘Angel’, a hand-knotted tapestry, was the result of 8 weavers working tirelessly for 3 months straight, through which she pays homage to the artisanal process of creation.
Many of the artist’s works repurpose old objects to which she imparts new meanings and narratives. The found objects heave with contextual multiplicity – one of its past life and the newer purpose conveyed by Rodrigues through her artistic intervention. ‘Desert’ is a work that brings to life chairs that were once in the homes of immigrant families in the UK. The artist embellishes them with ribbons, but the utilitarian purpose of the chairs is stripped away by its unoccupiable placement. The ghosts of those who inhabited the chairs remain, yet barely. The only evidence of occupation is the porcelain feet, planted firmly on the ground. The placement of the furniture in this work and works such as ‘Home: Is the Cathedral of Life’ breaks the sense of intimacy. The viewer is no longer a mere onlooker. The scale, all encompassing nature and grandiosity of the works enable the spectator to become an active participant within the work.
All the works in the exhibition exist as a collective whole. It is their aggregate quality that imparts her works with such a powerful and visually impactful impetus. ‘Urban Dwellers’, one such work, consists of a sea of shoes tied with red ribbons; a colour that within the history of art carries symbolic weightage representing blood, life, anger and love.
Through her interventions, Rodrigues makes her choice of materials and colours fraught with meaning. This is apparent in ‘The Lovers’, where ceramic hearts in freezer bags are hung on a metal stand, as streams of red ‘blood’ flows copiously. The work is a requiem for those that have had their dreams, passions and lives crushed. Even within the literality of some of the works, there is a certain poetic and rhythmic quality that is accentuated by repetition.
Rodrigues’ retrospective offers a promise of revival. She perpetuates the forgotten and unearths the buried. Her striking materiality, made even more pronounced by the rhythmic cadence, allows for new histories to be rewritten over old ones and gives way to new narratives.