“de Maria, de Mariana, de Madalena…” was a project conceived for the fifth edition of the exhibition “All My Independent Women”.
While most projects were on display in Coimbra at Casa da Esquina, between May 21st and June 18th of 2010, others found their place elsewhere in the city. Our project took form in the virtual environment of Second Life in Delicatessen Sim.
This edition of AMIW revolved around the collective reading of the Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters by Maria Isabel Barreno, Maria Teresa Horta and Maria Velho da Costa – a 1972 book that was banned by the Portuguese dictatorship, causing the famous case of the ‘Three Marias’ which became a milestone in the history of feminism in Portugal.
Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters is a book written in three hands, in the form of letters, and we never know which of the three authors wrote which part of the text. The book takes it trajectory from a much earlier text in which a nun named Mariana Alcoforado appears as the central character of a book from the seventeenth century entitled Cartas Portuguesas/Letters of a Portuguese Nun. In this early book Mariana Alcoforado writes letters to her lover, the Knight of Chamily, from her convent in Beja. In the new book however the Mariana Alcoforado presents an opportunity to dissect a range of questions relating to gender and womanhood.
Despite all the texts in New Portuguese Letters being called letters, not all are in fact letters in the formal sense of the word. The subject branches out and fragments. There are multiplicities of voices, who write on behalf of Mariana, or her mother, or her sister, or the Knight of Chamily, and so forth.
We invited Delicatessen’s visitors to embody themselves in women’s shapes. For this we created three avatars that we made freely available as the fruits of a Great Tree. By touching particular fruits on this tree, visitors received one of these avatars: Maria, Mariana and Madalena.
Maria was a pregnant woman. She was shorter than the usual Second Life avatars and much heavier and portly. We were particularly proud of the skin folds on her back which are of course very common in many women and her heavy breasts. All of these physical attributes were very different from those commonly used in the Metaverse to denote feminine beauty. Her clothes were primitive, with a cloak made of sheepskin and a necklace made out of baby’s teeth. Of the three avatars she was the only one who was armed – she had a primitive knife strapped to her thigh. She was a mother and a warrior, however one that literally came in the proverbial sheep’s clothing. Ergo, she was the most dangerous woman alive.
Mariana was a tree. We made her while we were thinking of Bjork’s “Bachelorette” verses: “I’m a tree that grows hearts | One for each that you take”. It was indeed her giving nature that also made her so dangerous.
Madalena was the prisoner of the gaze. Both her shape and skin where more in line with the usual stereotypes in Second Life — tall, thin and sinuous, with firm breasts and milky skin. She was a desirable woman. Her desire had become a mirror of the Other’s desire and therein lied her power, turning her into the most dangerous woman on earth…
As the book Novas Cartas Portuguesas/New Portuguese Letters invites an erratic reading, so did Delicatessen’s multiple islands. We did not offer a default route, we preferred that each person builds his/her own away, by wandering in the region.
Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be, a photo by CapCat Ragu on Flickr.