The 25th of April is a day to celebrate and commemorate, but also to protest and re-remember. As the date marking the end of Estado Novo 49 years ago, it is imbued with a complexity of history-present-future understandings—something that the three-day multidisciplinary art festival “Futuros da Liberdade,” organised for the occasion by Rua das Gaivotas 6 and Supermala, tackled with gusto by connecting the memory of 1974 with the ambivalent future and reality of today.
Bringing together food, music, installation and performance art, “Futuros da Liberdade” created an arc of celebratory experiences that speak directly to community festivities, not forgetting subtle criticisms that an honest 25th of April celebration necessarily has to engage with. In this sense, the most striking was the first day of the festival, held outside of MALA, a gallery in Ajuda founded by Sofia Montanha and Henrique Loja in 2020, and featuring the opening of installation and community artist Leonor Parda’s solo exhibition Self-will Run Riot, as well as a most engaging street concert by Escola de Fados da Ajuda. Accompanied by wine, beer and bifanas, the sense of community was carefully balanced by the critical topic of Parda’s exhibition: improvised machines of self-inflicted violence through action, spontaneous installation and photographical recordings. Although the statement in the exhibition brochure—"Self-will is a riot, Leonor is revolution"—may feel somewhat overstated, the very reflection on the masochist aesthetics of our time is very much welcomed, especially in the context of the future of freedom that the festival’s name refers to. As Audre Lorde stated in an interview with Susan Leigh Star, "Sadomasochism … cannot be seen as separate from the larger economic and social issues surrounding our communities. It is reflective of a whole social and economic trend of this country."
Similarly, the luxurious combination of pleasure and pain as seen in Parda’s poignant exhibition stems from the very violence of our current existence. Perhaps that is why it was not met by surprise by the members of the Escola de Fados da Ajuda, many of whom are old enough to have been alive during the dictatorship and whose voices brought the fado, the survival song of the people that the younger generation disregards for its continuation through dictatorial times. The metal plates featured in the exhibition and welded in situ on the streets of Ajuda—to the amusement of neighbours who, as Henrique Loja from MALA told me, were happy to see a woman welding metal on the street—speak to the forced-upon-us violence of today, when we are faced with the financial crisis of rising costs, overwhelming tourism, and a government that, for many, does not seem to be acting to the best of our collective interests. A particular work is most striking: Afterparty (2023), featuring photographs of randomised scars brought on by destructions of the night. Here, it feels as if the violence is self-inflicted when, in a stir of a drunken frenzy and the disregard of youth, we attract self-inflicted violence. It is only in the context of an exhibition space that we can understand the deeper, systematic meaning of the happening as something caused by the power structure we inhabit and (often willingly) participate in.
Playing on this continuing turbulence of past-present-future is the performance at Rua das Gaivotas 6 on the second day of the “Futuros da Liberdade”: António Onio’s POWER. As the lights dim and the audience calms in anticipation, Onio’s recorded voice states—first in Portuguese, then in English—"Welcome to my performance. In this performance, you will ask me questions, and I will dance." Onio is an expert at creating an intimate setting, as the audience feels increasingly at home in its role, posing questions to which the artist responds with careful, humorous retorts that at once bring lightness and a feeling of being welcomed. Onio continues to answer and dance until we, as an audience, are placed in a position that almost unexpectedly turns on its head into uncanniness. An oft-quoted phrase by filmmaker Fatih Akin comes to mind here:
"Because when an audience is laughing, that’s opening their souls somehow, and when you have an audience with an open soul, it’s much better to hit them with a knife."
In that same way, Onio delicately leads his audience to a vulnerable and joyously receptive locus. Laughing and relaxed, we are not prepared for what is to come—which, in this case, is Onio taking us on a journey of his remembrance of slaughter from Portuguese colonial times, when he (or his character) takes part in burning down a whole village and then tries to rescue two children who, he soon discovers, ends up starving to death. This, POWER declares, is our history. This is the past of the liberdade. This is what we need to live with, the collective memories we, unbeknownst to ourselves, are grappling with. The artist twists the knife with a statement accompanied by a dance that is so honest that most of the audience audibly holds their breath, as he says that he is not ashamed but that the nightmares continue to this day, bearing the inadmissible memories of the colonial past.
The festival's final day is one of pure celebration, featuring a food performance based on the excellent cooking of Joana Trindade Bento and the research (and excellent feijoada recipe) of Eunice Meneses. While the taste and the thought—accentuating how the Portuguese diet has not changed despite a supposed monetary influx, with the majority of the population not being able to afford much beyond beans, cabbage and pork left-overs, and therefore creating immaculate traditional dishes from these ingredients—being those of excellence, the performance left me wanting in terms of metaphysical depth, primarily due to its need of activation. This is something that was perhaps lacking due to the novelty of the collaboration and the familiarity of the audience, although I have no doubt that both artists will bring us more exciting, interesting and engaging food performances in the future, together and on their own. It was, nonetheless, a perfectly celebratory moment, brought to conclusion by the festivities of the night organised by Tita Maravilha and Oseias, which, I must admit, I was not able to witness.
“Futuros da Liberdade” managed thereby to do the unexpected: to bring the complexities and contestations of the past, present and future it holds. A day of multi-faceted histories was herein boiled down to a celebration that held the contradictions close with the sensitivity of a three-day programme which served as a reminder for us all that the struggle for freedom, peace, and equality is always going to be intertwined with the painful memories of times past.
Maria Kruglyak is a researcher, critic and writer specializing in contemporary art and culture. She is editor-in-chief and founder of Culturala, a networked art and cultural theory magazine that experiments with a direct and accessible language for contemporary art. She holds an MA in Art History from SOAS, University of London, where she focused on contemporary art from East and South East Asia. She completed a curatorial and editorial internship at MAAT in 2022 and currently works as a freelance art writer.
Proofreading: Diogo Montenegro
Futuros da Liberdade. Performances views at Supermala e Rua das Gaivotas 6. Photos: © Paula Malinowska. Courtesy of Supermala and Rua das Gaivotas 6.
 Estado Novo was the dictatorial regime initiated by Salazar in Portugal and lasting from 1933 to 1974. It ended with the Carnation Revolution on the 25th of April, 1974, sometimes called a coup d’état staged by the military and enacted in full by working-class organisations in the years that followed. A key cause of the revolution was the decolonial fight in the Portuguese colonies in Africa, where the decolonial struggle led to increased budget spending and uncountable deaths of Portuguese soldiers.
 Susan Leigh Star and Audre Lorde, "Sadomasochism: Not About Condemnation," A Burst of Light: Essays by Audre Lorde (Firebrand Books, 1988). Full quote: "Sadomasochism in the lesbian-feminist community cannot be seen as separate from the larger economic and social issues surrounding our communities. It is reflective of a whole social and economic trend of this country."
 This statement is here paraphrased but the meaning holds true. The performance changes with its audience, although its storytelling climax remains the same.
 Wendy Mitchell, "Going to Extremes: Fatih Akin on His Turkish-German Love Story 'Head-On,'” indiewire (19 January, 2005): indiewire.com/features/general/going-to-extremes-fatih-akin-on-his-turkish-german-love-story-head-on-78433/.