(ANSA) – LISBON, 08 JUN – Visionary and visceral, always at the forefront of civil rights, the dignity of women, the right to abortion, freedom of speech. Eighty-seven years and a passion until the last inexhaustible, Paula Rego, tells the moved critic Cecilia Alemani, she was even more than a great artist, “a model for an entire generation of women”. And it is no coincidence that the Milanese curator wanted to dedicate an entire room of her “The milk of dreams”, the exhibition of the 2022 Art Biennale to the works of the great Portuguese painter. Because Rego, she says, was a beacon for the many “who have looked to her as an example of a fearless artist, who has never been afraid to express her convictions”. All her life, she remembers, she “worked tirelessly and without compromise on very complex issues such as freedom of speech, women’s rights, the right to abortion, constantly condemning conservative and reactionary policies”. Known for her paintings, drawings and illustrations of a fable-like matrix, reinterpreted to bring out the darker and deeper sides, Paula Rego was born in 1935, in a strictly Catholic Portugal, under the dictatorship of Salazar. And the horror experienced in those terrible decades by his country is reflected in much of his work in which, as recalled by the Biennale, “he often faces the moral challenges of a society subjected to political tyranny, in particular oppression and violence institutional towards women “. Behind her there is a privileged family that allows her to leave Portugal for London, the city where she will practically remain all her life and where she studies at the Slade School of Fine Art, learning the trade from painters of the caliber of Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Victor Willing, who later became her husband. With their references to Miró, Dubuffet and 19th-century political cartoons, his early works from the 1960s – the years in which he began collaborating with artists from The London Group – establish a tension between open-mindedness and freedom. sexual environment and the suffering inflicted by a despotic government. As her art develops, the curators of the Venetian exhibition underline, “the exploration of interpersonal and social tensions is taken to extremes”. Up to the women protagonists of her paintings of the late twentieth century and early 2000s vulnerable, grotesque, figures that convey “with a disorienting ambiguity the difference between the sinister and the seductive”. Among the most important exhibitions, the retrospectives at Tate Liverpool in 1997, at Tate Britain in 2005 and at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2007, which was also brought to the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington in 2008. A year ago Tate Britain dedicated a major retrospective to her and again in 2021 she was listed by the Financial Times as one of the most influential women in the world. Portugal mourns her today, her death, said President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, is a “national loss”.