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Maria Thereza Alves
Courtesy the Artist
Photo Maria Thereza Alves, Amedeo Benestante, Elisa Strinna
Millions of people visit the ruins of Pompeii. Many others read about it and see images, but it is not the ruins that impress us; it is the fact of partially experiencing different people in a different time to which we feel connected. This is the value of Pompeii. As the Western world becomes more aware of its own histories and predicaments it seems appropriate to attempt to connect Pompeii to other phenomena which have been concealed. Maria Thereza Alves’ new work for Pompeii Commitment is at once a celebration of the creativity and resilience of Black American women in the music world as well as an open reflection on the impact of Western colonization on ancestral heritage and local archaeological histories in the Americas. These complementary approaches are evoked in Nevermore/Evermore through the interactive combination of image and sound: a selection of archaeological pottery shards from Pompeii storerooms – arranged and photographed in the fashion of a museum vitrine – become the carrier of music excerpts from different songs by African American women singers of the twentieth century. The protagonists of Nevermore/Evermore are “creative women,” says the artist, “predominantly from economically harsh backgrounds, who would have had mostly menial career options at the time. They bravely made spaces for their histories that live today. The singers in this work are women who were born before the Civil Rights Movement. Singers who would not be allowed to come in through the front doors of the nightclubs they were the stars of, or use any of its services. Still these women persisted and made music – glorious songs, of the world around them such as Bessie Jones’s ‘I am Rollin Through This Unfriendly World’, or Flora Molton’s good advice that ‘Your Enemy Can’t Harm You’, and of hopes as in Bessie Smith’s ‘Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl’.” Through the overlapping and linking of these “pieces” – aural and material – which sit on very different historical trajectories, Alves’s work draws our attention to the ancestry of these singers, pointing to how the dynamics of modern colonization implied forms of historical erasure as white settlers did not value, care, nor try to preserve cultural expressions of the populations they oppressed and, in Alves’ words, “forcibly removed from worlds”. Indigenous American and African languages, stories, songs, Gods and art, including musical instruments, were prohibited in the United States, and so was the education of the enslaved. Through her Pompeii Commitment project, Alves thus poses this question: “What a world would it be if the seriousness, expertise and resources used in the West – as exemplified by the essential archeological work carried out in Pompeii – were applied to also study Black and Indigenous archeological sites throughout the Americas, instead of ignoring, concealing or destroying them?”. The vast, layered and widely known cultural heritage located in Pompeii – which, upon its discovery, became a modern landmark of the Western Grand Tour, and still remains a popular destination of contemporary global tourism – becomes a term of comparison for the artist to highlight how systemic oppression has deprived many individuals and cultures of the opportunity to hold onto and refer to archaeological matters belonging to their ancestors – thus also denying them the possibility to access the knowledge and stories which archaeological objects embody. SB-AV
Home page image: Maria Thereza Alves, Nevermore/Evermore, 2021. Courtesy the Artist
The brief excerpts of the songs cited within the work Nevermore / Evermore are used for the purposes of criticism, discussion and scientific research for illustrative and non-commercial purposes, in accordance with the international legal regulations know as fair use, reproduced substantially by Article 70 of the Italian copyright law. The original songs cited in the work are listed below, including all available information about the authors, years of publication and sources.
Ball and Chain, written and recorded by Big Mama Thornton. Released in 1968. Label: Arhoolie Records
B.D. Woman’s Blues, written in 1935 by Lucille Bogan, recorded under Bogan’s recording name, Bessie Jackson. Piano: Walter Roland. From the album: Shave ‘Em Dry: The Best Of Lucille Bogan. Originally released in 1935. Label: Sony Music Entertainment, Inc.
Everyday Strange Things Happening, written and recorded by Sister Rosetta Tharpe in 1944, released by Decca Records
God’s Little Birds, Sister O.M. Terrell, 1953. From the album: The Gospel Tradition: The Roots and The Branches Volume 1
How Much Can I Stand, by Gladys Bentley. Guitar: Eddie Lang. Recorded in New York City, N.Y. Thursday, November 2, 1928. Originally issued on the 1929 single released by OKeh Records 8643 (78 RPM). From the 1980 album Mean Mothers: Independent Women’s Blues, Vol. 1″ (Rosetta RR 1300) (LP)
How This World Made A Change, Cora Fluker 1980. From the album Look How the World Has Made a Change, Cora Fluker, Ola Mae Bell November 17, 2013
I’m A Rollin Through This Unfriendly World, unknown composer, sung by Bessie Jones. Recorded at Alan Lomax’s apartment, 3rd Street 10/12/1961
I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl, first recorded in 1931 by Bessie Smith, released by Columbia Records.
Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall, performed by Ella Fitzgerald accompanied by The Inkspots, featuring Bill Kenny, 1944. Released by Decca Records
Little Laura’s Blues, written and sung by Laura Ella Dukes 1972. From: Blues Oggi – Ricerca dal vivo tra gli afroamericani dell’area di Memphis (1972)
Prove It On Me Blues, written by Gertrude Ma Rainey in 1928, Band led by Georgia Tom, accompanied by Her Tub Jug Washboard Band
Rock Me Baby, Beverly Watkins with the Rick Fowler Band at the Foundry in Athens, Ga., 03/10/17
Rolled and Tumbled, Rosa Lee Hill, guitar and vocal. Recorded by Alan Lomax in Como, Mississippi, September 25, 1959. From Worried Now, Won’t Be Worried Long, one of five albums commemorating the 50th anniversary of Lomax’s “Southern Journey” field recording trip. Released in 2010 digitally by Global Jukebox (GJ 1002) and on LP by Mississippi Records (MR 058)
See See Rider Blues, version by Bea Booze, released in 1943 from the album The Definitive R&B Series, 1942-1943, Various Artists, Amazon Music 2012
Shame On You, Jessie Mae Hemphill, 1985
Waterboy, Odetta Holmes, from My Eyes Have Seen, released by Vanguard,1959
Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues, written by Ida Cox in 1924, performed with the Coleman Hawkins Quintet in 1961, released by Rosetta Records
Won’t You Be Kind To Me? written by Hattie Hart in 1928, recorded with the Memphis Jug Band 1928-30, released by Victor
You Ain’t Gonna Feed in My Pasture Now, Maggie Jones & Her Band, released 1927, Columbia Records
Your Enemy Can’t Harm You, Flora Molton. From Living Country Blues USA/ vol 3/Flora Molton & The Truth Band Original Field recordings. Recorded in Washington DC on October 1980, with: Flora Molton/vocal & guitar; Ed Morris/guitar; Vgo/violin; Phil Wiggins/ blues harp
Maria Thereza Alves (Brazil, 1961) has worked and exhibited internationally since the 1980s, creating a body of work investigating the conditions and circumstances of particular communities and individuals to give witness to silenced histories. Her projects are research-based and develop out of her interactions with the physical and social environments of the places she lives, or visits for exhibitions and residencies. While aware of Western binaries between nature and culture, art and politics, or art and daily life, she deliberately refuses to acknowledge them in her practice. While constantly elaborating their entanglement, she chooses instead to create spaces of agency and visibility for oppressed cultures through relational practices of collaboration that require constant movement across all of these boundaries. Alves was co-founder of the Partido Verde of São Paulo, Brazil in 1987 and, in 1981, she was the representative to the USA for the Partido dos Trabalhadores (Workers’s Party) of Brazil. In 1979 while a member of the International Indian Treaty Council, based in New York, she made an official presentation on the human rights abuses of the indigenous population of Brazil at the U.N. Human Rights Conference in Geneva. In 2012, José Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Union, asked Alves to be part of his special committee to formulate a New Narrative for Europe. Alves has participated in the following major international exhibits: Sydney Biennale (2020), Toronto Biennale (2019), Manifesta 12 in Palermo and Manifesta 7 in Trento, 32nd and 29th São Paulo Biennale, 8th Berlin Biennale, 6th Moscow Biennale, Sharjah Biennale (2017), dOCUMENTA (13), Taipei Biennale (2012), 3rd Guangzhou Triennale, 10th Lyon Biennale, Prague Biennale (2008), Berlin Film Festival (2008) and the 2nd Havana Biennale. She had a solo exhibit of her work at MUAC in Mexico City (2014) and a survey exhibit at CAAC in Sevilla (2015). She was awarded the Vera List Prize for Art and Politics (2016–18) with the accompanying solo exhibit, Seeds of Change: New York – A Botany of Colonization at Parsons – The New School for Design in New York. Her 2018 book Recipes for Survival is available from University of Texas Press.
To activate Nevermore/Evermore, please click on the image and select its fragments