One of my fondest childhood memories is making animals our of brown paper with my paternal great-grandmother. I’d sit on the beautiful rocking footstool, fascinated by the precise movements of her hands holding the scissors, forward and up and around and back, making elephants, giraffes, and other creatures that would then play in our improvised jungle. Silhouettes of brown paper hopping and running in the imaginary bush. To this day I recall those precise edges and beautifully crafted figures perfectly balanced on the floor.
Growing up, I’m not sure I entirely reconciled Mámia – my paternal great-grandmother with the magic scissors – with the person on the many portraits on my grandparents’ walls. A painter herself, and the youngest in a family of artists, she seems to have sat for endless portraits. Her lovely grumpy “fine, I’ll sit for you again” expression in several of the artworks I grew up with, is endearing to me.
I got to see several of these paintings, along with many others I had never seen before, in a recent exhibition that brought together the work of Roque Gameiro – Mámia’s dad – and his descendants. My nephew and I had fun running around the galleries noticing details, playing I spy, poking each other to find differences between multiple paintings of seas and waves and terraces and landscapes.
But the best part of that show was indeed the sequence of portraits of a sometimes smiling, sometimes (well, mostly!) grumpy Mámia, posing for her father and siblings, and later on her husband. I am hoping that these – along with her own work – are present in the exhibition that is now on show in the family house where she grew up: an exhibition about Mámia I look forward to spending time with in my next visit to Lisbon.
From what I hear, the exhibition (titled, in a literal translation, Seeing Everything: Mámia Roque Gameiro) shows much of Mámia’s work – but is about way more than just her paintings and drawings. It shows my great grandma as the person everyone went to for an opinion on composition, advice on specific paintings, or solid feedback on artworks in progress. Not necessarily being the most professionally accomplished artist of the family, Mámia seems to have been, as the many letters and written documents gathered seem to show, seen as the one who saw stuff. The one who listened. The one who noticed. I look forward to experiencing all of that myself soon.