Leticia Valverdes, “Dear Ana Saudade”

Querida avó Ana this project is for you! I involved the inhabitants of your little town of Mundão They were active participants in a fictional story that made me feel closer to you. They called it “romance”, “art” and we created together. On the postcards they tell you of their life as if they were your friends. The life you would have had, had you never left. The friends you so longed for. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
“Life is brief, but there is in it much more than we are capable of living” – José Saramago. Portugal is full of paradoxes. It can be so melancholic yet so full of joy, so dark inside the interiors with their closed shutters and yet suddenly so much light and laughter is discovered just there, beneath the encountered reality. Red was your favourite colour so I wear this shawl. My heart is a little bit in Mundão now. As I discovered our roots and even a brand-new set of relatives that you never knew we had, I now have a new place and people to have saudade for, to feel nostalgic about….. Obrigada for guiding me there, dear Ana. So much to live and so little time. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.

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.

Hello Sra. Ana, At the age of 14 I started sewing and never stopped. The money earned in sewing was for my mother to buy the sardine. At that time, it was very bad. (From hunger). I hope you are happy in Brazil. Vows from Albina. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Mundão, May 1, 2017 – Hello Sra. Ana! How is your health? I hope everything is fine with you. I feel sorry for not having met you in person yet, just by photo, but one can see that you must be a good person. My father is your age, he was also born in 1920. He was the founder of the Rancho Folclórica de Mundão and, as it should be, he left this legacy for me to continue it. So I take care of our Rancho Folclórico together with my husband, daughters, granddaughter and son-in-law. It is very healthy to keep the traditions of mine and your homeland alive. I hope to visit you in Brazil one day. Kisses from the always friendly Eufêmia. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Ana I am the oldest man in Mundão as I was born in 1919, March 23. Like you, I also lived in Brazil. I really liked being there but I came (back) due to poor health. A hug from Antonio. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Ana here is Arminda from Mundão. Like you, I also lost a young son.We never forget this pain. Best wishes and a hug, Arminda Almeida. “Dear Ana Saudade”, photography, 2017.
Dear Dona Ana. As time goes by, everything changes… but I believe that your love for your land endures just like mine. Here, I remain faithful to traditions, dances and singing of your time. It is always so good, so rewarding to do it with all my heart. I would have a lot to tell you, but the memories will stay forever in our hearts. With affection, Liliana. “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.