Rui Chafes was born in 1966 in Lisbon, where he currently lives and works.
In 1989 he graduated in Sculpture from the Faculdade de Belas-Artes de Lisboa. Between 1990 and 1992 he studied with Gerhard Merz at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany. During this stay he translated the Novalis Fragments from German into Portuguese.
Since the mid-1980s, he has exhibited his work in Portugal and abroad. He represented Portugal at the 46th Venice Biennial in 1995 (with José Pedro Croft and Pedro Cabrita Reis) and at the 26th São Paulo Biennial in 2004 (in a joint project with Vera Mantero). In 2013 he was one of the international artists invited to exhibit in the Republic of Cuba’s pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennial.
In Portugal, he has staged solo exhibitions at various key institutions, including Centro de Arte Moderna da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian; Museu de Serralves (with Pedro Costa); Centro Cultural de Belém; Sintra Museu de Arte Moderna; Palácio Nacional da Pena; Museu Colecção Berardo (with Orla Barry) and Quetzal Art Centre (with Orla Barry).
Abroad, he has staged solo exhibitions at institutions such as S.M.A.K. (Ghent, Belgium); Folkwang Museum (Essen, Germany); Esbjerg Kunstmuseum (Denmark); Nikolaj Copenhagen Contemporary Art Center (Copenhagen, Denmark); Fondazione Volume! (Rome, Italy); Fundação Eva Klabin (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil); Fundación Luis Seoane (A Coruña, Spain); Hara Museum, with Pedro Costa (Tokyo, Japan); Museu de Arte Moderna (Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), and Ilmin Museum, with Pedro Costa, (Seoul, Korea).
The group shows in which he has participated include Inklusion / Exklusion, Steirischer Herbst, Graz; En la piel de toro, Museo Reina Sofia, Madrid; Sonsbeek 9, Arnhem; 7. Triennale der Kleinplastik, Stuttgart; Milano Europa 2000, Milano; Scultura Internazionale a la Mandria, Torino; Cardinales, MARCO-Museu de Arte Contemporanea de Vigo; Himmelschwer-Transformationen der Schwerkraft, Landesmuseum Joanneum, Graz; Ad Absurdum (Energien des Absurden-von der Klassischen Moderne zur Gegenwart), Museum MARTA, Herford; and Colossal!, Osnabrücker Land.
His work forms part of many European collections (such as S.M.A.K., Belgium; Esbjerg Kunstmuseum, Denmark; Museum Folkwang Essen, Germany; Sammlung Würth, Germany; Museo Nacional Reina Sofia, Spain; Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporaneo, Spain; Colección Helga de Alvear, Spain; Colección Caja de Madrid, Spain; Fundacion Caixa Galicia, Spain; Fundación Caja de Ahorros del Mediterraneo, Spain; Centro de Arte Moderna da Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Portugal; Fundação de Serralves, Portugal; Fundação Luso-Americana para o Desenvolvimento, Portugal; Museu Colecção Berardo, Portugal; MAM - Museu de Arte Moderna, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Colecção Cachola, Portugal; Fundação PLMJ, Portugal; Centro de Artes Visuais de Coimbra, Portugal; De Bruin - Heijin Collection, Netherlands. MACRO - Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma, Italy, Centre Pompidou- musée nationale d’art moderne, Paris, France, Fondation Giacometti, Paris, France).
In 2011 he held a solo-exhibition in the Sassi di Matera, Italy. In 2018 he exhibited several large-scale sculptures in the city of Bamberg, Germany, and made a dialogue-exhibition with Alberto Giacometti at the Fondation Gulbenkian a Paris, France. In addition, several of his sculptures are on permanent display in public spaces in Portugal and abroad. In 2020 he made a large-scale permanent sculpture for the Fondazione Centro Giacometti, in Stampa, Switzerland. In 2022 he did an exhibition with Pedro Costa and Paulo Nozolino at Centre Pompidou, Paris, and a large solo-exhibition at Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Serralves, Porto. In 2023 he made another dialogue-exhibition with Alberto Giacometti at the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon. In 2004 he was awarded the Robert-Jacobsen Sculpture Prize by the Stiftung Würth in Germany. In 2015 he received the Pessoa Prize, awarded by Jornal Expresso. In 2021 he received the AICA Prize.
Part of his activity is dedicated to writing and translating as well as organizing and publishing the books that accompany his sculptural work.