Visual arts

Ernesto De Sousa, a major figure of the Portuguese avant-garde

I am sure that one day we will be able to combine everyday life and creative life, and that everyone will learn from art, even those who are resistant to it.

Unclassifiable and multiform, Ernesto de Sousa is one of the major figures of the Portuguese avant-garde. An exhibition, supported by the Institut français of Portugal, was dedicated to him earlier this year in Lisbon. The exhibition was also programmed as part of the France-Portugal Season 2022 but has been postponed. 

Discover the whole programme of the Season, implemented by the Institut français for the French segment. 

Published on 27/07/2022

5 min

Ernesto de Sousa (1921 - 1988) is a protean figure, both a prolific multidisciplinary artist and an iconoclastic thinker, who acts as a bridge between different generations of Portuguese and international artists. Committed to the idea of experimental and unconstrained artistic expression, he is an exhibition curator, critic, photographer, film director and stage director. 

In the 1960s, he became involved with the Fluxus movement and the European neo-avant-garde through his friends Robert Filliou and Wolf Vostell. He then began to develop a collective and transdisciplinary artistic practice, as evidenced by his play Nós Não Estamos Algures (1969), his film Almada, Um Nome de Guerra (1969-1972) and the numerous exhibitions he curated, which have been regularly reassembled since his death. 

Throughout his career, Ernesto de Sousa organised conferences, exhibitions and workshops on experimental cinema, video art, performance and happenings. His exhibition Alternativa Zero, at the Galeria Nacional de Arte Moderna in Lisbon (1977) synthesises this vision and his desire to build bridges with the international scene. 

His only feature film, Dom Roberto (1962), is considered to be the first example of Novo Cinema, and won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival. Subsequently, Ernesto de Sousa was the Portuguese curator of the Venice Biennale in 1980, 1982 and 1984. At the heart of his practice is the central idea that designing an exhibition is a gesture equivalent to creating a work of art. 

The exhibition Ernesto de Sousa - We are not somewhere - Collective exercises in poetic communication, that was dedicated to him in Lisbon with the support of the Institut français of Portugal, was also expected as part of the France-Portugal Season 2022. The exhibition pays tribute to his protean approach to art, through an intergenerational perspective that involve many contemporary artists from the Portuguese and international scene. His famous motto "my body is your body, your body is my body" serves as a manifesto for this major retrospective, which revisits his first exhibition A Tradição como Aventura ("Tradition as Adventure", 1978), as well as a selection of works, collective and curatorial projects dating from the 1960s to the 1980s. 

  • 1921


    Born in Lisbon.

  • 1946


    He founds the first film club in Portugal, which leads to his imprisonment for four years.

  • 1962


    Dom Roberto, his only feature film, is awarded at Cannes.

  • 1977


    He designs his famous exhibition Alternativa Zero at the Galeria Nacional de Arte Moderna in Lisbon.

  • 2022


    We are not somewhere - Collective exercises in poetic communication exhibition dedicated to his work at the FRAC Champagne-Ardenne.

L'institut français, LAB