Rigo 23

Galeria Zé dos Bois (ZDB)

The practice of Rigo 23, a Portuguese artist living in San Francisco, falls under the category of political activism. The critical but idealistic nature of his activity can be verified in “Nada de Novo/Swim Again” (Nothing New/Swim Again), an exhibition that delineates a panorama of his production over the last twenty years, presenting works made in media ranging from painting and drawing to objects and embroidery, as well as documentation of site-specific interventions in public spaces. Whatever their form, his works deal with such topics as the homogenization of Western civilization on a global scale, official historical narratives versus alternative histories, the mechanisms of state repression, and the dynamics of the perpetuation of racial segregation.

The language of underground urban culture, such as punk music and fanzines, characterizes Rigo 23’s production from the late ’80s and early ’90s. This emerges in Hooked on Despair, 1992, a large painting that examines the mass alienation characteristic of the contemporary condition. The same is true of recent works like the punningly titled mural Demóniocracia (Demoncracy), 2006, which depicts a pie chart (though it might also be seen as a bomb with a red fuse) representing the great mass of humanity versus the tiny sliver of it that is the United States, with the caption “Government of the vast majority by a tiny minority through war, usurpation, and propaganda.”

Rigo 23 has done large-scale murals in countless cities. Typically painted in the shape of an arrow and bearing one or several words, they deconstruct the meaning of the places they occupy. Re-creations of various of these projects, through photographs and videos—among them Sky/Ground, 1998–2005, which documents a mural painted on the side of a building in San Francisco which was subsequently obscured by the construction of a new skyscraper—are among the high points of the exhibition. The room dedicated to Robert King, one of the prisoners collectively known as the Angola 3, who were members of the now defunct Black Panther Party, is the most impressive from an emotional perspective. Comprising a documentation center and a radio studio for live broadcast of debates about the legal system, it evokes the twenty-nine years this man has spent in solitary confinement at the Louisiana prison known as Angola, convicted of a crime which many believe he did not commit.

The exhibition spills out of the building and extends into some areas of lower Lisbon. ZDB Sempre (ZDB Forever), 2006, comprising three Portuguese sidewalks made using a craft technique that dates back to classical Rome, with patterns of the artist’s design, marks this transition. He painted a new, large-scale mural, Europa Latina (Latin Europe), 2006, and, as an homage to the Native American leader Leonard Peltier, he renamed a workers’ organization with the activist’s native name (Museu Taté Wikikuwa, 1999/2006) simply by installing the work’s title on the facade of the group’s headquarters. But it is the Museu do Triciclo (Tricycle Museum, 2002/2006), located in the city’s main square, that attracted the most attention. This consisted of a con- tainer housing tricycles collected by the artist in his journeys through impoverished regions—vehicles often used as rural transportation by the poor in Madeira, his native island. It thus alludes to the economic exploitation of so-called underdeveloped countries by those known as developed, a subject that epitomizes the concerns of Rigo 23.

Miguel Amado

Translated from Portuguese by Clifford E. Landers.