Ana, in 2005 when I took this photo you could not longer recognise yourself in the mirror. It was painful to witness that. Having Alzeihmers is like being dead alive. My journey back was a way of keeping you alive in myself, on us and all the women of our lineage yet to come. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
You at 15 and being a hair model with lace from Portugal. A woman of simple origins but many dreams and talents. I know you wanted to play the piano but your strict father did not let you. You were only allowed to be a “hair model”. Those stories and others I heard from you as a child. Perhaps you told me so much in the hope that things would be different for myself. That I would not live a life of unfulfilled dreams…Thanks for your gifts Ana! “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Now that I’ve made the inverse of your journey and know the European land you left behind. I still have questions. What is going through your minds in crystallised instant? Had you all just arrived in Brazil or is this before leaving Portugal? You granny, the youngest, giving hands to your mum, still with a life ahead of you, so much promise and potential. 100 years on I know how it all ended for you but you live in me. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Materials: fine arts digital print, family album, performance, role play, hand writing, dance, mirrors, objects, garments.
Dimensions: 20cm x 30cm and 30cm x 40cm
Learn more about Leticia Valverdes at www.leticiavalverdes.com
Artist’s comment: This series is about my journey back to my grandmother’s motherland, Portugal.
I went for her, who could never return in life. It is a collaborative project with the people I encountered in her small village of Mundão. They were invited to write a postcard to my dead grandmother and play the fictional Portuguese friends she believed she had while dying with Alzheimer’s in Brazil.
As well as the postcards, a more subtle series of images made with the villagers emerged. They reflect, how incredibly moved I was by what I found, by my encounters with the people of my ancestors’ land, their spaces, the ruins of long abandoned houses, the landscape… And then I discovered relatives I never knew I had. A family wound was healed a story retold.
In this work I was strongly inspired by the cultural expression of Fado. Its nostalgic melancholy inherited by the people that went “além mar” was somehow passed on to me by my grandmother and to her from her own mother. A “transgenerational” feeling of saudade that guided me back to the motherland of my female lineage.
Even though my work tends to be presented in the medium of photography, I am recurrently inspired by Brazilian Augusto Boal and his theatrical methods. I seek to not let my subjects be simply seaters but active participants of collaborative creations.
Photography stills are one aspect of the meaningful interactions I have with my collaborators. In this case with a whole village. Through performance, fiction and playfulness we recounted the story of my granny’s life had she not left. Cathartically, each villager had a role to play as the “actors” in the unwritten play of her life. Together we explored migration, poverty, memory and death, always permeated by the deep feeling of saudade that links the Brazilian and Portuguese psyche.
My granny was born in 1920, and left Portugal to Brazil in 1921. Currently Europe seems to be engulfed more than ever in a borders and nationalism debate as part of the populist mood sweeping up much of the world right now. 100 years on this is a perfect time to tell this personal yet universally European story of migration.
This project includes: the returning journey “diary” with photos and words to Ana made with the villagers; the postcards by Ana’s fictional friends; archive documents and images.