The artist Vera Chaves Barcellos was born in Porto Alegre, Brazil, in 1938. She graduated in 1956 from the Instituto de Belas Artes in Porto Alegre, where she studied music, but abandoned her plans to become a musician to pursue the visual arts instead. Between 1961 and 1962 Chaves Barcellos studied printmaking and painting at the Central School of Arts and Saint Martin's School of Art (now Central Saint Martins) in London as well as lithography and linocut at the Academie van Beeldende Kunsten in Rotterdam, Netherlands. On returning to Brazil, she worked in painting, lithography, and woodcut printing. In 1963 she had her first solo exhibition, in Porto Alegre. During the 1970s Chaves Barcellos taught printmaking at Universidade Feevale, in Novo Hamburgo (greater Porto Alegre). In 1975 she received a fellowship from the British Council to research printmaking and photography at Croydon College in London. After this experience, photography became the central medium for the artist as its capacity for manipulation and reproduction was fundamental to her interrogation of the nature of images.
Chaves Barcellos was one of the founders of Nervo Óptico, a group of artists active in Porto Alegre between 1976 and 1978. With eight female artists, she directed the influential exhibition space Espaço N.O., which operated between 1979 and 1982 and promoted alternative formats, such as mail art, performance, dance-theater, and installation. Since the 1980s Chaves Barcellos's production has included multimedia installations, manipulated photography, computerized images, objects, videos, and animation. Beginning in the 1980s she divided her time between Brazil and Barcelona, and in 2004 she became a Spanish citizen.
An engaged cultural agent, Chaves Barcellos directed Galeria Obra Aberta in Porto Alegre from 1999 to 2002, and she opened the foundation that bears her name in 2003. Fundação Vera Chaves Barcellos currently owns more than fifteen hundred works by Brazilian and other artists, among them Mira Schendel (1919–1988), Lygia Clark (1920–1988), León Ferrari (1920–2013), Sol LeWitt (1928–2007), Christo (b. 1935), Regina Silveira (b. 1939), and Paulo Bruscky (b. 1949). Chaves Barcellos has exhibited extensively in Brazil and abroad at the Bienal de São Paulo (1967, 1977, 1983, 1989), 30th Venice Biennale (1976), 1st Havana Biennial (1984), and 5th Mercosul Bienal, Porto Alegre, Brazil (2005). Throughout her career she has received many accolades, for example, at the 20th Salão de Gravuras de Belo Horizonte (1965) and 4th Salão de Artes Visuais in Porto Alegre (1977). Her show O grão da imagem (2007) was honored as best solo exhibition by Porto Alegre's secretary of culture in 2008. Chaves Barcellos's pieces are in the collections of the Museu de Arte Moderna de São Paulo and Museu Nacional de Belas Artes in Rio de Janeiro.