British Columbia

MOA Portuguese Folk Art Exhibit largest in North America

Museum of Anthropology puts its collection of Portuguese folk art on display for the first time.

Museum of Anthropology puts North America's largest collection of Portuguese Folk Art on display

Anthony Shelton wants to take Museum of Anthropology visitors to Heaven, Hell & Somewhere in Between, and learn a bit more about Portugal in the process.

MOA's Director and Curator spent several years working on Portugal before coming to British Columbia. Even though the province is home to Canada's third largest Portuguese population — located primarily in Vancouver and Kitimat — Shelton says the culture has not been well-represented in museums and galleries.

Until now.

Jorge Cerqueria's marionettes are on display at MOA's "Heaven, Hell & Somewhere In Between: Portuguese Popular Art." They were inspired by Luis de Camoes' epic poem "Os Lusiadas" and are displayed against a video projection of a roiling ocean to represent Portugal's seafaring history. (Kyla Bailey)

Collection is the largest in North America

Prompted by representatives of Vancouver's Portuguese community, Shelton and MOA put together North America's largest collection of Portuguese folk art.

"I think it's important, because the largest Portuguese population outside of Portugal is in Canada," said Shelton.

More than 300 works are on display in the exhibit, which draws its name from a concept in Portuguese popular religion that everyone is born with an angel on one shoulder and devil on the other. "We all wander through this world with the temptations of heaven and the temptations of hell," said Shelton.

A wander through the exhibit reveals paintings, ceramics, marionettes, sculpture, carvings and masks collected directly from Portuguese artists.

MOA Director Anthony Shelton stands in front of Nelson Oliveira's "Devil Figures." Shelton lived and work in Portugal prior to coming to MOA. He's the co-curator of "Heaven, Hell & Somewhere in Between" and collected many of the works directly from the artists during a sabbatical in Portugal. (Margaret Gallagher/CBC)

A changing artistic landscape

"A lot of it's made by people in their 70s and 80s," remarks Shelton, who says several of the artists have passed away since the project began. "In terms of the people making masks, there are younger people taking their places. But in most cases, they're not. This is the last generation."

The exhibit runs from May 12 to October 12, 2015. In Fall 2015, Shelton will also lead a small group of participants on a trip through Portugal to visit several of the artists.

To hear Anthony Shelton's tour of the exhibit, listen to the audio labelled: MOA's Anthony Shelton on "Heaven, Hell & Somewhere In Between: Portuguese Popular Art."