The Others

Five skirts, some almost transparent, embroidered or decorated with large flowers; others woven with plastic ribbons, cut paper, red, pink, or multicoloured, and with different textures. Five metal structures, also, ‘dressed up’ in a light, vivacious veil, a mask that transforms them, pushing them into heterogeneity, into surprising associations of techniques and materials, capable of toying with complex formats and provoking unexpected senses.

They’re five actors, or five actresses, on an empty stage, shallow objects waiting to be inhabited by other bodies — of dancers, of the audience? — and to follow their movements, upsetting or augmenting their mobility.

The Others, by Sofia de Medeiros, a work from 2012, are the result of a dialogue between contemporary art and dance, and a reflexion on the relationships between the female body and garments. As in preceding works, particularly in the ‘Fuchsia Hybrida’ series, appropriation of the Portuguese tradition and of their myths unfolds into an aesthetic strategy pregnant with a sense of humour that swings between proximity and distance, between identification and subversion.

If the artist’s skirts indeed remind us of the seven skirts of the women of Nazaré, and their symbols — one of the works is even named ‘Seven Skirts’ —, their diversity exceeds any repetition scheme. Here the skirts are made by a process that makes the artist intersect memories, materials and gestures — collective and individual — whose trajectories are so varied. The works become, then, hybrid objects[1], intersection zones where the plastic flowers and ribbons made in China meet the cross stitch, the cloth flowers, the cut paper, and the touristic aprons with the word Azores. In this sense, Sofia de Medeiros’ work questions the pastoral[2] dimension of popular arts — a repertoire very present in her work — and directs us to a reality of capitalism and globalisation in which ‘purity is a myth’[3], as Hélio Oiticica wrote in the sixties. Thus, this work shows the need to negotiate a new ethical and political positioning in the field of labour relationships between popular arts and mass production, but also between contemporary art and handicrafts.

Nowadays, in western countries, the skirt is a piece of garment mostly worn by women. The skirt — long, short or mini — hides or enhances the body and at the same time reveals social and cultural habits as well as changes in what concerns female sexuality and the construction of genre identities[4]. Sofia de Medeiros associates skirts to womanhood, enhancing the ‘feminine’ side of these objects. The objects are partially made with techniques as embroidery and sewing, and deal with an iconography of amorous feelings — incorporating images as the flower or the heart — or of domesticity — as in the ‘Há festa na aldeia’ skirt, that uses traditional aprons. Besides, in the large drawings made with the sewing machine, the artist indiscriminately uses images of pop culture and of Art History in which women are represented in stereotyped poses. These are women that kiss their lovers passionately; that tidy up the house; that lovingly hold the baby; or that dance happily in a country fair. In the appropriation process, which corresponds to the time it took to embroider the images, the artist chooses to keep only the outline of the images, thus persevering in the standard nature of the pose but also on the repetition of the same gestures in the life of countless women.

The skirts, as theatrical and artistic objects, become then masks that hide the body, make it more feminine, questioning the role of bodily adornments in the construction of the genre and in social representation. At the same time, Sofia de Medeiros’ playful and imaginative work reminds us that the distance of criticism has to negotiate with the legacy arising from a tradition and of a memory that urgently needs to be transformed, rethought and questioned, instead of merely making things invisible.

Giulia Lamoni, May 2012.

[1] Lúcia Marques, in her work on Sofia de Medeiros, had already pointed out the hybrid side of the ‘Fuchsia Hybrida’ flower, also the name of a series of works by the artist, in 2012.

[2] See Glenn Adamson, Thinking through Craft, Oxford: Berg, 2007.

[3] In the work Tropicália, 1967. Collection of Reina Sofia Museum, Madrid.

[4] ??????

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