Website on global south and decolonial issues.

Do you say I am lying? – Jimmie Durham

14 SEP 2019 — 5 JAN 2020 Culturgest Porto.

photos by Marta Lança

Jimmie Durham’s trajectory combines poetry, political activism and artistic practice with an immense coherence that has given new significance to the relationship between politics and poetry. Constantly questioning representations of identity originating from dominant forces, processes of exploitation and discourses of segregation of the other, Durham’s work operates like a mirror in relation to our own identity constructions and most atavistic representations. 

The exhibition presented in the project Chain Reaction draws on an earlier one by the artist entitled Brief History of Portugal, which was displayed in 1995 in Módulo Gallery. This was the first time his work was shown in Portugal and proved crucial to his subsequent trajectory. 

Inspired by José Saramago’s book The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis (which Durham considers to be a reference book for himself and the history of the 20th century), the works include quotes from the text that, typed or handwritten, are individually integrated into each of the pieces, although the latter do not constitute metaphors or illustrations of the respective quotations.

Jimmie Durham’s artistic work is frequently linked to the specific place where it is created. All the pieces displayed in the Módulo exhibition similarly had their origin in the local environment: Lisbon. Built from objects found in the streets of the city (branches and pieces of wood, stones and various bits of metal, plastic, ceramic and fabric), they seem to define a fragile world rescued from an undefined period in time. The paradoxical relationship between reality and fiction, essential in the structure of Saramago’s book, which narrates the final year in the life of the most famous heteronym of Fernando Pessoa, relates explicitly to the title of the exhibition Do you say I am lying?, which is itself a quotation from the same book. An excerpt from Saramago’s text, included in one of Durham’s works: “Do you say I am lying? Of course not, we have never lied to each other; when it’s necessary we just use words that lie for us.”

One of the works on display, As Frases [Sentences] (1995), is a sculpture consisting of a broken sink and its shattered fragments which are scattered across the floor. This work is the result of the performance carried out by the artist at the exhibition’s inauguration, where, after giving a monologue about the generality of the world while making an axe out of a stone, a piece of wood and a strip of leather, in a determined and theatrical gesture, he suddenly smashed the sink into pieces.

Jimmie Durham brings to the surface the issue of the truth of the artwork, probably one of the most relevant themes in a world that is constantly forgetting about the fictional nature of art – not necessarily implying that it lacks an intrinsic paradoxical truth in its materiality and representational nature. The fragility and apparent vernacularity of the works that make up the exhibition play with the fine line between the production of the real and the collection of mundane objects, in a palimpsest of meanings that generates tension between what is given to us and what we construct.

In addition to the works from 1995, the artist presents a sound piece SONG NC SHARP (2006), which has not been exhibited for several years, alongside a new piece of work. The first is a recording of the sound of glass breaking: glasses being smashed against the floor and the wall by the artist himself. The second is a sculpture specifically conceived for this project, which includes semi-precious stones that Durham has been collecting over the years. 

Together, these works draw on themes that the artist has developed in the past: the breaking and shattering of the world and, simultaneously, its fascination rooted in chance and the politics of representation of identity.

Thus, Do you say I am lying? is not just the recuperation of a significant moment in Jimmie Durham’s career, but also a bridge in relation to his current work, demonstrating its acute actuality.

Jimmie Durham (USA, 1940) began his career as a political activist, poet and performer at a very young age in the early 1960s. In 1969, while living in Geneva, he studied sculpture and performance at the École National Supèrieure des Beaux Arts.

When he returned to the United States he got involved with the American Indian Movement, becoming a member of its central council, and later directed the International Indian Treaty Council, which he represented in the United Nations.

In 1980, he returned to art, but maintained his political activism and associations. In 1987 he left the USA for Cuernavaca (Mexico), for a period during which he participated in important international exhibitions, such as Documenta (Kassel, Germany) and the Whitney Biennial (New York, USA) He moved to Europe in 1994 and currently divides his time between Berlin and Naples.

His writing was brought together in the book A Certain Lack of Coherence (Kala Press, 1993), with a second volume being published more recently: Jimmie Durham: Waiting to be Interrupted. Selected Writings 1993–2012 (M HKA and Mousse Publishing, 2014).

In 2017, he was the object of the retrospective exhibition Jimmie Durham: At the Center of the World, organised and hosted by the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles, USA), and later exhibited in other places: Walker Art Center (Minneapolis, USA), Whitney Museum of American Art (New York, USA, 2017-2018) and Remai Modern (Saskatoon, Canada, 2018). 

This year he won the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 58th Venice Biennale.


Chain Reaction is an ongoing collaboration between Fidelidade Arte and Culturgest, curated by Delfim Sardo. The proposal consists of involving artists in the selection of their peers, who will follow them at Fidelidade Arte (first) and at Culturgest Porto (subsequently). The curator invited Ângela Ferreira (Maputo, 1958), whose exhibition inaugurated this cycle and who chose Jimmie Durham as her successor. In turn, the North American artist collaborated in the selection of the following artist, Elisa Strinna (Padua, 1982).

The three interventions will be presented in different ways in Fidelidade Arte and Culturgest Porto, namely with the presence of different works, the result of profound adaptations of the projects to the different nature of the two spaces.

At the end of each year a book will be published compiling the memory of the three projects that took place that year, with extensive documentation of their development.



Delfim Sardo



Sílvia Gomes



António Sequeira Lopes



Susana Sameiro



Rui Osório



Bruno Fonseca

Renato Ferrão





X Artes Visuais





25 JAN – 24 MAI 2020

Culturgest Porto

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.