Over the course of seven decades, Bertina Lopes developed a singular body of work that intimately reflected her own political activism and social criticism. Born in Maputo to a Portuguese father and Mozambican mother, Lopes left to study in Lisbon where she was first introduced to Modernism. This exposure to contemporary European art movements had a deep impact on her work, as she would begin to meld these international styles with African iconography. Returning to Mozambique in the early 50s, Lopes became an influential professor, while simultaneously engaging with the country's poets, writers, and political activists. As her anti-fascist and anti-colonialist views strengthened, and the country's political situation became more tumultuous, Lopes was forced to return to Portugal in 1961. Prosecuted by the PIDE (Portuguese International and State Defence Police), Lopes soon after fled to Rome, where she would spend the rest of her life. Here, Lopes' work took on new meanings, reflecting a desire for independence, and end to colonialism, while also demonstrating an acute awareness of her own African Identity. Lopes' work would remain tied to current events in Mozambique, from the country's independence in 1975, to the subsequent civil war, lasting more than a decade. Her final works made after the war's end in 1992, denoted a newfound freedom, characterized by gestural abstract marks, and bold color.
While it was difficult for Lopes to gain recognition for her work in Italy, she became a vital figure within Rome, as a cultural attaché to Mozambique's embassy. She would additionally represent her home country in important, international exhibitions, including two editions of the Venice Biennale. In spite of the barriers she faced, Lopes had several significant exhibitions of her work during her lifetime, including two exhibitions at the Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon, 1973 and 1979, an exhibition at National Museum of Modern Art of Baghdad, 1981, as well as major retrospectives in Rome at Palazzo Venezia, 1986, and Palazzo della Cancelleria Apostolica, 2002. Following her death in 2012, Archivio Bertina Lopes was founded in Rome to preserve her legacy, as well as her home and studio.