Essay - Manuel Botelho’s Secret Reports

João Pinharanda. 2008

A fictional trend is apparent in every dimension of Manuel Botelho’s work: in painting and drawing, and now in his photography.

That trend is more evocative than narrative, more descriptive than illustrative, more architectural than dramatic and, strangely enough, more rational than emotional.

Indeed, nothing is told in the scenes that he stages […]; nothing is explained, no continuous action can be perceived. Nonetheless, everything expresses a discourse that is evocative of a real situation and which obsessively details its scenic elements […] without ever limiting itself to any historicist or naturalistic logic.

Here, it is a matter of using elements drawn from a specific war (the Portuguese colonial war) to speak about that war and all other wars […]. Extending a practice already present in his paintings and drawings, the artist turns to self-representation. He now appears in the role of soldier-as-symbol-of-all-soldiers, thus also self-representing the artist at war […] with himself.

Ração de combate consists of a group of images that we may think of as still-lives. The human presence is strong, but due to its fragmented character, it can only be understood as yet one more of the still-life’s elements […]. And the accumulation of board games, dice and playing cards, old bank notes and unappetising food, ashtrays, cigarette stubs and secret maps, classified documents and military or secretarial objects – along with the aggressive or disturbing way all this is assembled – enhances the psychological atmosphere we associate with war.

Moving away from the universes where he started from, Manuel Botelho places himself at a new frontier. But that evolution occurs in full poetic coherence: while remaining within the confines of a strict grid, his pieces generate a very high inner tension […]; photography and colour add an unpleasant weight to these realistic testimonials, repelling rather than attracting us, going beyond the real rather than just depicting it.

João Pinharanda
Lisbon, 2008, April 25th