Mulher-Manifesto para sempre Novas Cartas Portuguesas

What is new in the new?

Everything is new in the beginning. However, the new is volatile. It naturally disperses, quickly returning as something usual. However, the old new, which is now past, recovers the novelty in the current moment. Eternal return[1]. According to Nietzsche, a commitment to history. An affirmation of Being.

See this moment! I continued. From this gateway Moment a long eternal lane stretches backward: behind us lies an eternity.

Must not whatever can already have passed this way before? Must not whatever can happen, already have happened, been done, passed by before?

And if everything has already been here before, what do you think of this moment, dwarf? Must this gateway too not already – have been here?

And are not all things firmly knotted together in such a way that this moment draws after it all things to come? Therefore – itself as well?

For, whatever can run, even in this long lane outward – must run it once more! –[2]

What is the power of words? This is the question asked in the documentary film by Luísa Sequeira and Luísa Marinho, which has just been premiered in Doclisboa’s 20th edition. And also a certainty after reading New Portuguese Letters, the work that fed the documentary and whose publication celebrates fifty years in 2022. A provocative interrogation by the Three Marias, the three authors, whose impact continues to be felt. Especially this year, as a play and temporary exhibition, with ever current values that erode the apparent stability of social, political, individual structures.

In the 1970s, New Portuguese Letters confronted the dictatorship and the morality of the national male power, which claimed to have the right to say what women should do. It was a kind of banner of feminism, reinforcing the impact and cultural weight of the literature given the many possible interpretations, relationships and actions created. Today, New Portuguese Letters remains new: factual, controversial, essential. A path that, Nietzsche (we) “must run it once more”. This is proven by the inauguration of the exhibition Novas Novas Cartas Portuguesas, at Galerias Municipais de Lisboa – Galeria Quadrum, on October 13, in a period when the rights of women and the LGBTQIA2S+ community continue to be a cause for struggle.[3] An exhibition based on the body to exalt feminism and see it as a form of thought and action, capable of stimulating social and political awareness, breaking the alienation of society and overcoming the barriers of gender inequalities, establishing a new existential model, more inclusive and egalitarian.

We are between the tacit violence, resonant of Sara Graça’s Echoes, between the silence of the prison-house and the suffocating rhythm of a routine movement. Until we reach the butterfly-girl, the desired metamorphosis. A desire to escape in Problema na Casa, materialized in the bead curtain that hints at passage, thickened by the breeze-break produced by the undone material. We see an almost body – is it a woman? – that passes through it and of which only traces of the transition remain.

There is a similar sense of abuse and intimidation in Aleta Valente, where subject, object and support converge. Bárbara personifies the true story of the inmate who gave birth inside her cell. Here, maternity, marginality and horror collide. How long will the state continue to ignore gender specificities in the prison system? Marque um X para cada aborot que você já fez, is an open letter to freedom of expression that aspires to freedom of action.

With one foot in artistic activism and the other in symbolic manifestations (inevitably political) that challenge established models of power, with a view to the re-signification of gender and aesthetic stereotypes, we see the vinyls of Miss janitorina, Material girl, Sua beleza é uma arte and Queimada de Aleta and Francisca Sousa’s figurative paintings. In the former, the posed woman aims at the observer, in an enlarged and reflective format that brings the latter into the work, confronting them with their own dogmas. Objectification of the female body, criticism of prescribed beauty standards and gender work; the titles satirize and challenge the female stereotype where bodies are instrumentalised, fit for various functions. Sousa’s pictorial cries for gender liberation show the woman in opposition to masculinity, naked, unashamed, using her voice as a kitchen utensil; and also Florbela Espanca, feminist activist and poet of modern Portuguese history. The ironic face-to-face between Boyfriend and Quarantine Delights reveals sexuality and emancipation; and I see a reference to Sóror Mariana Alcoforado in Aula de Costura, a contemporary and provocative version of seclusion. After all, painting is always subjective.

In a harmonious opposition to the narrative written in the masculine represented by Audun Alvestad. A seemingly dreamlike vision, composed of trivial scenes and ‘ordinary’ individuals, that constructs a subtle essay on heteronormativity, exploration of gender roles and established social structures.

Resistance is debated and facts are contextualized through Maria Teresa Horta’s poems, aligned with Jorge da Silva Horta’s photographic documentation, who followed the trial of the Three Marias. We dive into the historical dynamics of the 70s with Les trois portugaises, a documentary by Delphine Seyrig – also a renowned figure of French feminism – revisiting the Portuguese case through the actions of support and dissemination of the book in Paris, between March 1973 and September 1974, where the reading-performance “La nuit des femmes” and the demonstration at Notre Dame in 1974 took place.

Similar voices and desires stand out in Rita Moreira’s films, where we hear in Ti-Grace Atkinson – Uma biografia de ideias “Marriage and family are institutions as corrupted as slavery. They must be abolished as slavery was”. A portrait of the American feminist activist, pioneer of the legendary Women’s Movement in the early 70s, a reference for New Portuguese Letters. Marielle Franco – synthesis of all Brazilian women’s struggles – is the motif of the documentary Caminhada Lésbica por Marielle, following the protest of feminist activists, women and LGBT community against feminicide and lesbocide; focused on their resistance in the face of the increasing violence they are targeted in Brazil.

On two occasions, a challenging erotic expressiveness questions us about what it means to be a woman. At the centre, the circular compartment with Aura’s A transformação do mundo gives us a clear answer when we enter it. There is some pleasure in this secrecy. In this space, rather than voyeurs (we are forced and absorbed by the carnal magnitude) to make the piece real, we are vital participants in its scope. As curator Tobi Meier says, for the artist “the Three Marias also recall the surrealism of Hieronymus Bosch, Gustave Courbet’s painting The Origin of the World and Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés.” A striking affinity between the literary motto and the bulwarks of art history. In contrast to Fabiana Faleiros’ audible and explicit allusion to the pleasure of masturbation, which has always been repressed, regulated and scorned, highlighting the connection it allows to ourselves, to our body and to what we intimately desire. In the genealogy of this gesture, Faleiros surveys the history of the construction of a body as defined in the feminine in Mastur Bar, a collection of objects about the word and its content.

The literal and allegorical epilogue is in Caio Amado Soares. Club Splendida, a fictional experimental web series, portrays imminent global problems and persistent individual existential doubts. With the planet on the verge of collapse, a group of friends see the spaceship and the escape as the answers to life. An anthropocentric, utopian and surreal vision, not so much for the mechanism (it no longer is), but because escapism is not a solution, but yet further challenges. Those that remain within us as long as we do not tackle them.

Regardless of the format, expressing pleasure, the female body, women’s struggles and survival is something revolutionary. This is the reality: it is still revolutionary. How long will we continue to talk about feminism and revolution as an indivisible dyad, with the former not valid as a unified, acquired good, without the need for rebellion? My body is mine. What is the power of these words? And how many women and girls around the world can affirm it freely?

The exhibition Novas Novas Cartas Portuguesas runs until February 26.




[1] one of Friedrich Nietzsche’s most important philosophical concepts, also discussed by many other thinkers.

[2] Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Third Part; On the Vision and the Riddle, 2.

[3] Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender/Transsexual, Queer and/or Questioning, Intersex, Asexual, Two-Spirit and the endless possibilities of sexual and gender orientation that each person chooses to self-identify with.

Master in Curatorial Studies from the University of Coimbra, and with a degree in Photography from the Portuguese Institute of Photography in Porto, and in Cultural Planning and Management, Mafalda develops her work in the areas of production, communication and activation, within the scope of Photography Festivals and Visual Arts - Encontros da Imagem, in Braga (Portugal) and Fotofestiwal, in Lodz (Poland). She also collaborated with Porto / Post / Doc: Film & Media Festival and Curtas Vila do Conde-Festival Internacional de Cinema. In 2020, and she was one of those responsible for the curatorial project of the exhibition “AEIOU: Os Espacialistas em Pro (ex)cess”, developed at Colégio das Artes, University of Coimbra. As a photographer, she was involved in laboratory projects of analogue photography and educational programs for Silverlab (Porto) and Passos Audiovisuais Associação Cultural (Braga), while dedicating herself to photography in a professional format or, spontaneously, in personal projects.

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