The exhibition Novas Novas Cartas Portuguesas has been organized on the occasion of Novas Cartas Portuguesas’ 50th anniversary, a collection of letters collectively written by Maria Isabel Barreno (1939-2016), Maria Teresa Horta (*1937) and Maria Velho da Costa (1938-2020) and characterized by them as “something unclassifiable”. Its format had been inspired by the 17th century Cartas Portuguesas, written by the involuntary nun Mariana Alcoforado whose own five love letters were composed full of hope, uncertainty, and finally the conviction of abandonment.
Released in 1972 and deemed immoral and pornographic by the Portuguese dictatorship, the Novas Cartas Portuguesas book was immediately seized by censorship, and a trial against the Lisbon-based writers was mounted until – amidst international pressure – the three women were finally acquitted on May 7, 1974, following the Carnation revolution.
Since then Novas Cartas Portuguesas has been gaining traction and recognition. In an era that acknowledges and continues to battle for the feminist cause and LGBTQIA2S+ (which stands for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit and the many different ways of self-identification) rights and inclusion, its emancipatory literary contents remain urgent and resonate into the present.
If the Three Marias questioned throughout their publication Sisters: “What can literature do? What can words do?”, this exhibition in turn reveals the potency of images and art works and develops on the discourse that benefited from and advanced since the release of the avant-guard literature that are the Novas Cartas Portuguesas.
The exhibition Novas Novas Cartas Portuguesas thus departs from the historical struggle of the Three Marias following the release of their publication in Portugal as well as its international reception. Including a wide array of media ranging from poetry to photography, and featuring installation, painting, sculpture as well as film, the display at Galerias Municipais – Galeria Quadrum invites the viewer for an encounter with works produced by contemporary artists that center on issues raised in the different letters of the book. Their works debate and reflect on traditional, modern and family of choice models, domestic violence, single motherhood, menstrual equality, gender diversity, and the myriad forms of erotic expression.
If following the 1972 release of the book, Portuguese women started to talk about sex and their bodies in a patriarchal society, Novas Novas Cartas Portuguesas is a non – exhaustive visual footnote to the original publication, acknowledging feminist battles in the heterogeneity of our society that is composed of intersecting identities.
The accompanying bilingual publication features texts by Aura, Irís Dórdio and Joana Meirim alongside an introductory essay by Tobi Maier and the reproduction of a 1975 interview conducted by Maria Teresa Horta with Simone de Beauvoir. Design by Irís Dórdio.