While visiting a friend in Addis Ababa back in 2000, I got the feeling of being in a place that was familiar to my western customs, and at the same time completely strange and alien to everything that I had experienced before. This trip to Ethiopia, the land of the sources of the Nile and various other historical oddities, mysteries and traditions, made me consider moving abroad, to live and to work in a new unexplored land.

The act of moving and to have that experience of encountering new situations and people in a different location was going to be the raison d’être of my own personal (self-inflicted) diaspora. Not seldom, artists living in exile try to make an art as a search for a certain identity. Raw but honest they observe, feel, introspect and find connections in their surroundings. The fact of being present in a different, strange or barely-known society pushes them to explore, look for familiar things they can or want to relate to.

In 2003, I packed, stored or sold all my belongings and moved to Lisbon, Portugal.

Screenshots from a short movie by O. Barrea

I arrived on a bright June morning in the ‘white’ city of Lisboa with only a few bags, an iMac and some money on my savings account. If I was a millennial, Richard Florida would have written his seminal book “The Rise of the Creative Class” just for me. A new breed of creatives that are mobile and work from anywhere in the world through the newly available digital channels on the Internet. The so called digital nomads. Unfortunately I am slightly older.  I would say somewhere on the verge of a Generation Xer and a Baby Boomer. Anyway who cares being stuffed in a generation box?

Lisbon was a great source of inspiration to me. You can almost feel the presence of poets and writers like Fernando Pessoa, or José Saramago, sitting on a stool next to you in one of the old ‘tascas’ sipping on a glass of very young (Vinho verde) or very old (Porto) wine. The city has an atmosphere that is truly phenomenal and extremely graphical. The first year I lived in an area called the ‘Barrio Alto’, or the high neighborhood. A maze of little streets on a hill with a plethora of small bars and restaurants left and right. At night these streets fill up with thousands of noisy youngsters looking for fun. A few years later I moved to the ‘Mouraria’ neighborhood, the old Moorish quarter. This was the neighborhood Amalia Rodrigues sung about with that ‘saudade’ in her beautiful warm voice. The area was also known to be a bit seedy and not very safe. Every night when I returned home from work I would leave the metro station at the Martim Moniz square, to discover a striking tableau of people, as plucked straight from a Fellini movie (sometimes from a Tod Browning movie). There they would sit frozen in a colorfully staged screenshot.

Elderly people laying in cardboard boxes spread out on the little yellow cobble stones, people with physical or mental ailments begging for money, gypsies and dwarfs wrestling on the steps of the metro, junkies and Chinese business men all mixed together into a potpourri of human authenticity.

A couple of works from that period (2003-2005).



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1992 Illustrations