Moving Images is excited to present new work from Brazilian-born, Melbourne-based photographic artist Cecilia Sordi Campos. You might recognize Sordi Campos as the winner of the 2019 ILFORD CCP Salon Memento Pro Best Photobook Design. Having recently graduated from RMIT’s Bachelor of Arts (Photography) with First Class Honours, Sordi Campos has been recognized internationally as a finalist in the ANZ Photobook Awards in Wellington, New Zealand and PHmuseum’s 2019 Women Photographer’s Grant in Milan, Italy. Her recent exhibitions include Transitions, presented as part of the Pingyao International Photography Festival, China and Loud and Luminous, exhibited during Sydney’s Head On Photo Festival.
It’s with pleasure that CCP exhibits A Cadência do Samba and Ala Das Baianas here for the first time. We caught up with Cecilia recently to hear more about her influences and practice.
Hi Cecilia, thank you so much for joining us to chat about your work.
Thank you so much to CCP for inviting me! I’m beyond excited to be taking part in Moving Images!
CCP has presented two video works from your recent series Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba. What’s the overall concept of the series and how did it come into being?
Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba aims to explore the often invisible but deeply felt experiences of emotional transition after the end of my marriage. Making this series, I drew comparisons between my migration to Australia at 17 years old and my separation from my partner of ten years. I also focused on exploring the layers that form my identity as a hybrid of all my cultural influences. In some ways, the project is an extension of my previous body of work, Moths Drink Tears of Sleeping Birds. This series was specifically made as a means of catharsis while I tried to grasp familial and intimate relationship dynamics. Moths, as well as other projects explored peculiarities of my migrant experience; loneliness, grief and the void left by not knowing my true place of belonging. However, none of my previous series have directly addressed my migration like Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba.
Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba roughly translates from Portuguese to ‘There Are Maggots In This Guava.’ Is there particular significance for you in this vivid phrase?
The title relates to memories from my childhood in Brazil. As kids we used to steal fruit from neighbours’ trees, guava trees specifically. I remember the thought of cracking open the guava and finding maggots inside was more exhilarating than eating the fruit itself. The title also speaks to the exhilaration that came back to me as I began to live as a single woman. I chose to have the title in Portuguese as a means to honour my mother tongue, but to also embrace my brasilidade, or my Brazilian identity.
Your previous work has often involved still, printed images. Have you worked with video or performance before? Why did you choose video for this series?
While I have taken self portraits for past projects, this is my first time working with moving image or performance. Despite having a very vibrant Brazilian personality, I am in fact inexplicably shy, so performing in front of the camera has been extremely difficult.
Initially, I shot self portraits whilst dancing Brazilian rhythms in seemingly banal settings. I introduced props to try to imbue the images with magical realism, as this literary genre also informed part of my research. However, the photos were starting to become problematic as they crossed over into parody. Plus, the images didn’t convey the movement and the sensuality expressed through the dance. Although I initially had reservations about moving image, I realised I wasn’t able to evoke this sensuality through stills. So after much internal dialogue, I gave in to the idea of a ‘moving self portrait’!
The concept of a moving self portrait is fantastic! Can you give us some background on the particular music and dance featured in the works?
From the beginning of Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba, I was painstakingly determined to only allow Brazilian or Latino concepts to influence my research. So if I were to dance behind sheets in the backyard at night, I had to dance samba.
Samba is known to directly descend from batuque, a circle dance performed by the slaves of Brazil’s colonial plantations. Academics believe that in the early seventeenth century, African slaves began to perform rhythmic dances to disguise their religious rituals. To this day, few know the transformation samba has undergone from a marginalized form of expression to become Brazil’s national music. Samba is also the defining element of brasilidade, or Brazilian identity. It is intrinsically linked to Carnaval and specifically to the parades in Rio de Janeiro. During Carnaval, escolas de samba (samba schools or clubs) make samba narratives about a chosen topic, which often involve a dialogue with Brazil’s history and culture.
Ala Das Baianas, which roughly translates as ‘Baianas’ Wing’, directly references one of the most traditional sections in an escola de samba parade. This section was introduced to the parades in the 1930s to pay tribute to the old Bahian ‘aunts’ of samba, who invited samba dancers into their homes at a time when the rhythm was still suppressed. In the parade, these women wear full skirts and perform samba while whirling their costumes. The title A Cadência do Samba, which literally translates as ‘The Cadence of Samba,’ was chosen as a means to pay tribute to the batuques, or drumbeats, found in the samba cadence.
In both Ala Das Baianas and A Cadência do Samba, you seem to only reveal traces of yourself with your feet covered by whirling fabric and your shadow cast onto a bed sheet. Was the use of fabric and veiling a conscious choice in the works?
Quite soon after my separation, I started to find uncanny pleasure in daily life. I was experiencing a huge sense of liberation from the end of a relationship that involved emotional abuse. Banal moments took on a magical feel. However, once I began openly expressing this pleasure in the aftermath of leaving my ex-husband, I realized I was expected to respond in prescribed ways. I was first met with empathy and solemnity, then I noticed surprise or perhaps judgment once I expressed relief.
Samba then became a cathartic experience of pleasure during this period. The use of fabric in the videos was to conceal the pleasure I found in daily life. Dancing became a very private and solitary experience in which through the movement of my body, I finally allowed myself to feel pleasure again and connect to new surrounds — the new house that hadn’t yet felt like a home. Through samba, I could process the longing I have felt for ‘home’ and embrace all the fragments that constitute my identity.
A Cadência do Samba features a recognizably domestic setting, with that distinctly Australian Hills Hoist washing line. Is the concept of home important to you in these videos?
Since my migration, I’ve felt deprived of my sense of belonging and identity, both geographically and metaphorically. I think that’s why the concept of home is quite dominant throughout Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba.
Different feelings of home are present in the contrasting visual language between the book and the moving images. A Cadência do Samba and Ala Das Baianas’ melancholia and seductiveness have a very different feel to the grotesque and prosaic imagery in the photobook. I wanted to show disparities between two periods in my life: in the moving images, my tentative exploration of my new home, compared with the (re)exploration of my hometown in the book, where I felt free to make images without censorship.
In A Cadência do Samba, the contrast between my typical Australian backyard with the Brazilian samba is directly linked to the meeting point of my two homes, the liminal space in which I live. I feel that these elements also reflect hybridity in my own identity.
You’ve spoken before about a process of ‘self-cannibalisation’ relevant to your photobook Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba. Could you explain this idea for us and whether you see it present in these video works as well?
The concept of the ‘devouring of the self’, or ‘self-cannibalisation’, emerged when I revisited Anthropophagic Manifesto by Brazilian writer Oswald de Andrade. The poetic text was inspired by the Tupinamba ritual, in which the Tupis, the largest Indigenous peoples of Brazil before colonisation, cannibalised their enemies to supposedly absorb their strengths. De Andrade proposed to ‘devour’ European, as well as Brazilian and Indigenous, cultural influences and customs. Once these are devoured, they are then transformed into a new form of expression or aesthetic revolution.
The cannibalism in the provocative manifesto is a metaphor for a more engaged representation of the process of cultural hybridisation. This idea informed the development Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba’s visual language, as I felt my own great need to ‘devour’ my cultural influences, my hybrid identity and my emotions to discover new forms of expression. Having said that, I see this idea as more present in the book, particularly in the use of repetition of images as a method to emphasise the hyperbole of ‘devouring’ the self.
Speaking of your photobook, it recently received a Commendation as a finalist for the 2019 Australia & New Zealand Photobook Award, along with winning the Memento Pro Best Photobook Design prize at the 2019 ILFORD CCP Salon — supported by Milieu. Congratulations!
Thank you! It has been quite surreal that Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba has been so well received and has connected with people. I am extremely honoured and humbled not only by this recognition, but also by those who have reached out to me and shared their own stories.
Is Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba as a series complete for now, or are there more works to come? Are there other projects on the horizon?
Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba as a series has definitely concluded! It’s been extremely painful to make this work, although necessary. At the moment, I’m researching and testing for a new project. I’m interested in language, both spoken and corporeal, as well as my own experience of forgetting my mother tongue. However, since coronavirus restrictions have been in place, I’ve found it extremely difficult to be productive or focus. Not to mention, it has also become impossible to photograph other people! Very foreseeably, this has brought on some frustration. Though like many of us adapting to new circumstances, I’ve learned to be still for the moment, with a few bursts of divine inspiration in between.
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CCP is passionate about connecting with our communities despite physical distance, and amplifying the work of lens-based practices in Australia. During 2019’s Government enforced closure, CCP presented a series of video works online via our website and social media platforms. The series, Moving Images, will highlight new and existing artworks, from emerging and established artists. Works will vary in length, format, and subject matter, but we hope they will be unified in their ability to keep you feeling connected and inspired, and bring our communities together while we are physically apart.