Choices With Soul

“There’s sea and sea. There’s going back and forth”. It was Alexandre O’Neill who said this, or rather, wrote it down, and nothing makes more sense for those who live in this country, besides the ocean. We are culturally, emotionally and economically connected to the ocean, and so, it is no wonder this is the inspiration behind countless projects that we are sharing with you today.

Words: Cláudia Pinto

Cláudia Varejão, Ama-San

A Portuguese director, and a Japanese portrait. Cláudia Varejão, a Portuguese filmmaker, released her documentary Ama-San, in 2016. The film turns its lens on Wagu, a small fishing village on the Ise Peninsula.

Every single day, three women dive without knowing what they will find; a ritual that the Ama-San have been repeating in Japan for over 2000 years. These women free-dive, which means they dive without the aid of breathing apparatus or any other means to help them remain underwater. All they have to rely on is their own body, which is tested to its very limits.

The Sardine, by Bordallo Pinheiro

Bordallo Pinheiro is a landmark in Portuguese culture and art. He single-handedly recreated — in ceramic form — some of the most iconic symbols of Portugal, such as Zé Povinho, Maria da Paciência, Ama das Caldas… and the sardine.

It is possible to find several sardines with different motifs and designs, among all the fruit and vegetables of the artist’s work. In fact, sardines are a very potent symbol in the nation’s culture. And why is that? According to National Geographic, in the words of Álvaro Garrido, a specialist in the History of Fisheries and the Economy of the Sea, at the University of Coimbra, “there are ancient archaeological records in Portugal that speak of thousand-year-old methods for catching and conserving sardines, especially from the Roman period”. Furthermore, “the abundance of this fish, an extensive coastline and the traditional affinity for certain fishing methods have created favourable conditions in Portugal for the widespread consumption of this food”, says Álvaro Garrido, sitting in front of his computer, in the course of our interview by video call. Proof of this is their regular presence at the Portuguese dinner table. A tradition that extends to literature, music, painting and even decorative arts, demonstrating that sardines have made a valuable contribution to our Portuguese cultural heritage.


The main objective of the EAT&ART project is to make us aware of the affinities between gastronomy and contemporary art, involving some of Portugal’s best chefs and artists, while turning our attention to the canning industry, the oldest in Portugal.

CAN THE CAN’s EAT&ART project gave rise to a book and a series of 18 works of art. The main theme was the canning industry and 18 dishes, which each use a Portuguese canned food product that for centuries has been captured off our shores. A project that explores the creative potential of two activities that seem poles apart, but have had much in common throughout history. A book of conversations between people that have no choice but to be creative. Those people share the reasons behind their career choices with us and contribute their thoughts and stories on the subject, in a spirit of open dialogue and personal questioning about the life choices of youth.

Expo 98

When 1998 was in full swing, Lisbon was literally opening itself up to the world, as host of the World Expo. What was once an abandoned part of the city, quickly blossomed. Today, the waterfront area — these days called Parque das Nações — is one of the busiest in the Portuguese capital.

“The oceans: a heritage for the future” was the motto for an exhibition that sought to celebrate and rethink the strategy for the Oceans, at a time when the Commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the Portuguese Discoveries were underway. The exhibition made its mark, some of which have survived to this day, such as the avenues, the Pavilion of Portugal by Siza Vieira, the Oceanarium and the Expo mascot, Gil, with arms open to the world.

The Oceanarium

25 years and counting. As old as Expo 98. The goal is simple: “to change the way we see the ocean and where big numbers tell the story: The Lisbon Oceanarium is open 365 days a year, which represents more than 91,000 hours open to the public, in 25 years”. And the numbers continue to impress. Over the last 25 years, the aquarium waters have been laboratory-tested more than 1.5 million times, which amounts to 200 times per day. More than 28 million people from more than 200 nationalities have visited the Oceanarium, of which 1.6 million have participated in the educational programme.

Considered a world-leading institution in its sector, there is nowhere like the Oceanarium in Portugal, 3 times voted the best aquarium in the world by Travellers’ Choice of TripAdvisor. In the words of its CEO, João Falcato, “The Oceanário was born with Expo’98 with a mission to keep alive one message, that the ‘ocean is a heritage for the future.’”

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