The Convento residency was founded by Geraldine and Kees Zwanikken. Together with sons Louis and Christiaan they left Holland and arrived in Portugal in 1980. There they learned a new language and single-handedly rebuilt the ruins of the ancient Franciscan monastery; The Convento.
Christiaan Zwanikken (Geraldine’s son) is an international renowned kinetic, robotics and biotechnology artist. He is the initiator and program producer of the Artist-In-Residence and director of the Multifida Foundation. Based in Amsterdam he also spends extensive periods of time at the Convento, producing work and whose supernatural environs he uses as a lab for studying and experimenting with natural processes.
Continuing the work of his parents and inspired by his own experience of the creative potential of the Convento he began building and designing the artists’ studios and facilities in 2004. This with the conviction that the Convento should be a place to share creativity and new insights with other interested, a place for study, experimentation and inspiration. Inspiration that is partly induced by Convento’s rare dynamics in its biodiversity as a result of nature conservation and partly by botanical, scientific and artistic research.
Disagreeing with the borders between academic disciplines or between art, technology and science Christiaan, together with his family, has hosted many artists, authors and scientists over the years, which whom he has collaborated on many occasions.
He currently holds an advisory position within the Mondriaan Fund, the public fund for visual art and cultural heritage in the Netherlands.
Cheryl Schurgers is a visual artist, fashion photographer and art director. She has been working at the Convento for many years, creating her work and initiating an extensive documentation and archival project on the many different aspects of the Convento. In 2019 she joined the team as a co-program producer, creative director and advisor for the Convento A.I.R.
Louis Zwanikken is Geraldine’s other son. Arriving at a young age at the Convento he developed a great passion and interest in the natural world. He is the warden of everything that has to do with the close and surrounding grounds that he surveys and maintains on a daily basis. He keeps track on the state of the nature preserve and takes protective measures if needed. He was a horse trainer for many years and is responsible for the well-being of the many animals that have always been an important part of the Convento’s ecosystem.
Louis collaborates with Christiaan on his exhibitions abroad and on his research and experimental projects on location. He is also supervisor of the organic communal gardens that are in place at the Convento, a collaborative project with the municipality of Mértola.
Geraldine Zwanikken, together with her late husband Kees Zwanikken, was the pioneering force behind the restoration of the Convento from its ruins into the inspiring oases and nature sanctuary it is today.
She worked as a classical dancer at the Dutch National Ballet before moving on to more avant garde and performative solo programs. During the first restoration years of the Convento she also became a visual artist, exhibiting internationally but also envisioning the Convento as one big work of art.
Greatly influenced by her upbringing in Indonesia, she was always convinced of the importance, in many ways, of the human connection with a rich biodiversity. With the gardening skills she already learned in Indonesia and with years of botanical experimentation she, together with her two sons, transformed the arid and exhausted grounds of the Convento into a lush forest-like, mosaic of landscapes and beautiful gardens.
Over the years she installed many national and international nature conservation programs at the Convento that continue until today. The Convento is now an important nature preserve within the bigger context of the Guadiana Valley Natural Parc where within the Convento is situated.
She continues working, initiating new projects and teaches children and adults, sharing her life-long experience in the many fields she has and is still exploring.