One of Lisbon’s most iconic attractions is a medieval Moorish castle that overlooks the Alfama district and the Tagus River. The Castelo De Sao Jorge is home to a flock of wild peacocks who roam freely inside the ancient stone citadel. It was the birds beauty and grace that inspired me to create the piece “flamboyance”, which was to feature two male peacocks in all of their colorful glory. I put “flamboyance” up on a salmon colored wall in the Principe Real district - one of Lisbon’s most colorful neighborhoods- often called “The Castro of Lisbon”.
It is not possible for me to explore the ancient alleyways of Alfama without conjuring up images of the Black Death. The crumbling architecture and the dark and narrow streets echo the sorrow of past contagions.
In 1505, Lisbon was being ravaged by the plague, which had arrived by ship from Italy. The King and his court were forced to flee the city. The site of São Roque, outside the city walls, (the contemporary, “Barrio Alto”) became a cemetery for plaque victims. The São Roque (Saint Roch) Church – is the patron saint for those who suffered from the plague. This is the geographic location I chose for my piece entitled Pestilence. Although trash is left out in the streets nightly, there is no evidence of the rats that were once blamed for the sweeping epidemic that left countless bodies in the streets, much like garbage is left today. These unfortunate rodents were only half of the equation, the other half, though a fraction of the size was the true perpetrator. The flea - the demonic hitchhiker. For this painting I placed a flea on top of a blood stained backdrop of the bricks in front of the Igreja de São Roque church, the Black Death burial grounds of medieval Lisbon.
My initial reaction to walking through the Alfama district of Lisbon was that I had been transported into a labyrinth. The oldest standing neighborhood in Western Europe, Alfama’s streets wind spider web-like through ancient passageways, under stone archways and along cobblestone alleys. With time and exploration I began to understand these tangled streets. I grew to feel like, and sympathize with the concept of the Minotaur, the half man, half bull creature who lived within a labyrinth. I thought of Picasso’s image of a bull’s head- made from the image of a bicycle seat. I imagined using this mask to mask my own identity and to transform myself in the image of a Minotaur. The wall I chose for this self portrait overlooks the Largo Das Portas Do Sol; a lookout point that gazes over Alfama’s terracotta rooftops- a resting place to watch over the labyrinth.