Next friday, 4 february 2022 at 12:00 p.m., Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos will receive the Arts et Lettres insignia from the hands of French Ambassador Florence Mangin, at the French Embassy in Lisbon. The Order of Arts and Letters, awarded by the French Ministry of Culture, honors “people who have distinguished themselves for their creation within the artistic or literary field or for their influence within arts and letters in France and in the world”.

Portuguese culture and tradition have always been fundamental pillars and main inspirations for her artistic creation but that hasn’t unabled Joana Vasconcelos from developing a close relationship with French culture’s values. Born in Paris in 1971, to parents of Portuguese origin in exile due to the dictatorship, Joana Vasconcelos soon learned to express herself in French, and studied at the French High School in Lisbon, where the family returned to when she was 3 years old.    

In this context, Joana Vasconcelos was pleased to receive the invitation to take part in the Portugal-France Cross-Season, which promotes cultural exchange between the two countries and starts on 14 february, running until october 2022. Following an invitation from the Centre des Monuments Nationaux, with curatorship by Jean-François Chougnet, the visual artist is preparing a monumental textile sculpture for the Vincennes Castle Chapel in Paris. Entitled Tree of Life, the piece draws inspiration from Bernini's Daphne and pays tribute to the self-determination of women, also materialized in the figure of Catherine de Medici, who after the death of her husband Henry II, committed herself to the completion of the chapel, establishing the link between heaven and earth.

And so, the contemporary artist returns to an historical French monument, 10 years after she became the youngest artist and the first woman ever at Versailles Palace, with the most visited exhibition in France in 50 years, reaching a record number of 1.6 million visitors. Over time, her work has been shown in numerous French galleries and museums, including, for example, the collections by Pinault and the Louis Vuitton Foundation. Two of her creations for the public space are installed permanently in French territory since 2018: Fruitée in Ferber, Nice (Côte d’Azur) and Coeur de Paris in Porte de Clignancourt (Ville de Paris). Also noteworthy is the collaboration with Le Bon Marché, for which the artist created a piece from her Valkyrie series, in honor of important French women: Simone (2019) de Beauvoir, (Simone) Veil and (Simone) Signoret. Other partnerships involved brands such as Dior, Chanel, Vogue, Roche Bobois or Flammarion. Her work has been studied by French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky, who wrote, with Jean Serroy, the book entitled Joana Vasconcelos or Art’s Reenchantment, published in Portugal towards the end of 2021 by Almedina.

More than 30 awards have been granted to Joana Vasconcelos throughout her almost 30-year career, such as the degree of Commander of the Order of Infante D. Henrique by the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in 2009 or The Contemporary Art Prize by the Association Française des Amis du Musée d'Art de Tel Aviv in 2013. Later this year, the visual artist is expected to receive the 2020 Women Together Art Award from the Women Together Foundation at the United Nations headquarters in New York.