Upon encountering the cloth hanging prisoner on the wall, one can almost perceive the weight of the fabric which enwraps the body… and suddenly one feels the impulse to liberate the costume from its bonds and feel the particular sense of freedom that invades us every-time we activate and experiment with the amazing performative-work by brazilian artist Martha Araújo (Maceió, Brasil 1943). The random or improvised performer wears the cloth as a sensorial tool which allows her/him to feel like a real autonomous individual who controls his own personal “drift”. “Flying away” from the walls or trying to escape from “the other” becomes also a strong sensorial and symbolic action. The noise made by the velcro when the cloth is separated from its “chains” emphasizes this act of liberation, conferring a suggestive- metaphorical effect which really strengthens the viewer’s or the performer’s own approach to the work.
Martha’s Araújo work makes us feel what we do not usually feel.
“As roupas” of “Hábito/Habitante” are like passing elements which take over the visitor who dares to activate them. Cathartic clothes which remain like shadows in the dark until their awakening, something that can only be done when the person who approaches them has this urgency to wear these powerful and meaningful garments. Through the clothes the artist activates a ritual of intimacy and repetition which is reinforced by the direct contact with the body, which then frees the work from its confinement breaking the limits of our own invisible barriers.
A simple symbolic gesture which embodies this need for liberty and which brings us back to the 1980’s, just at the end of the long military dictatorship* in Brazil (*1964-1985), a specific period under which the artist created these series of works and projects like “Hábito/Habitante” or “Para um corpo nas suas impossibilidades”. The recurrent action which leads the performer to experience the body first imprisoned and then liberated, has a strong political resonance which makes evident the conflict the artist had lived through during all those past and difficult years, in fact she was very active against the dictatorial regime during this time of repression. But it is also important not to avoid a more intimate and perhaps even more complex approach related to a close connection with “The Other”, as a way to reaffirm or to reinforce our individuality and independence.
What it is captivating here is the link between both the political and the more intimate-personal approaches. These two realms are strongly interconnected in Marthas’ practice. On the one hand we have the conflict generated by the coup d ‘état and the lack of liberty which followed just after, silencing any dissonant voice which disagreed with their imposed ideas and thoughts. The communist background of her father had also influenced the artist, whose house was back then a refuge for some of the people who were persecuted by the totalitarian regime. On the other hand along with the political and intellectual atmosphere present in her parents home there was also a spiritual and more sensitive side provided by the figure of her mother, which opened up for her other dimensions of the world. All these circumstances were in fact complementary and have invariably shaped her character and determined her first steps into politics and in the future development of her artistic procedure.
Experience tells us that it seems almost necessary to be deprived of something or someone to really appreciate what we have lost, as if what we have taken for granted is most of the time not really seen or appreciated. We have imprisoned our ability to feel and therefore we cannot use it to advance freely without constraints. In Hábito/Habitante Martha Araújo invites us to participate and to experiment with the inner power of her performative work and by doing so we will capture the real essence of her work. Poetic actions charged with transcendence which create new connections with our own physical limits in what can be understood as a beautiful metaphor of freedom in a wide sense.