Ex-votos: pursuing transcendence through art in a discouraging time

For the reader who most likely does not know the author who is writing to you, one fact about my life will be important in this article: a little over five years ago, I lost my mother. Yes, thank you, all is well now. Days and nights have gone by, a plane has crossed the Atlantic and, two diplomas and a blink of an eye later, three years have passed since the invoices are in euros and not in Brazilian reais.

On the one hand, the colour of a new sky and the cobblestones of new paths have shown many dulled fascinations; on the other, I confess that some of my faith has been lost in those two major shifts. And since then, without me noticing, even my academic enquiries have begun to go after the issue of absence and transcendence. When I was analysing Emmanuel Levinas work to answer an ecological question in an MA in Aesthetics, I suddenly realised that what emerged crystalline in intellect and theory had deep roots in my lachrymose body. An epiphany: I miss Brazil, but I miss even more feeling connected to a far away existence, geographically, temporally and spiritually.

In an intuitive and unthinking way, this restlessness led me to Rua de São Pedro de Alcântara to visit Brotérias most recent exhibition entitled Ex-votos. Opened on February 24, curated by Marta Costa Reis and Catarina Silva, it brings together almost all original works by 13 artists who, among jewellery, drawing, sculpture and painting, present visions about their – our – concrete and symbolic relations with the metaphysical. They are highly personal objects, at the limits between art, cult and occult territories, from Roger Paulinos cathartic recovery diary (STROM. Stories from Kreischa, 2021) to amulets or garments, designed to be in direct contact with the skin, like Marília Maria Miras necklaces (YouAndMe and MakeMeAllBodyAndSoul, 2023). Still, they speak perhaps about a collective diagnosis of disillusionment, a symptom of a world that looks to immanence as the last subterfuge and adventure into a rationalism that seeks to escape from itself.

To suppress the explicitly religious aspect of Ex-votos is impossible and even unwise. But the incantatory notion allows us to reach other realms. In the year in which Brotéria celebrates its 120th anniversary with a programme focused on the joint creation of good places (eutopos), incantation gives us “possibilities of freedom” through the integration between “the visible and the invisible (materiality and spirituality) and the connection and responsive/responsible relationship between different space-times (ancestry)” [1]. From a political and ecological perspective, the supernatural is translated into the ability to imagine, with hope, trust and participation, new structures beyond the current “racial, hetero-patriarchal, theological-political and Anthropocene contractual obligations” [2].

More than self-contained objects, hoarders of individual experiences in the sacred field, ex-votos are a material commitment to the uncertain future. In the room with works by Maja Escher, Tamia Dellinger and Marta Costa Reis, the pledge to the promise of openness to another world arises from the call to activate these objects in community. In the red clay of Mastro (2023) and Nascer do Sol (2019), made by the first artist, the flag of a time in which there is no shortage of water for all beings is hoisted. Water resurfaces as leitmotif in Dellingers piece, one of the most magical or shamanic creations in the exhibition, a kind of apron-sheet with ephemeral marks from diving into the sea, from sweat, blood, stones and jewellery made and collected by the artist in recent years: a genuine Altar (2022) of memories, made to be worn, displaced, offered, awakened. In I give so you may give (2023), by the third artist and curator of the show, the ancestral symbol of the amphora shapes small silver pendants – a reference to votive objects common in Spain, Italy or Greece, with traditionally human silhouettes and some volume – distributed in a kind of vertical net connecting the floor to the gallerys ceiling.

The image of these thousand-year-old pots recalls the allegory of the container object, which, according to Ursula K. Le Guin in her brilliant essay The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction [3], manages to retell the whole history of humanity from the origin of technology as a bag for carrying and sharing, rather than a weapon of domination. At issue is the power of narratives and words to articulate an alternative fable to this world of heroes, doomed to war and the unifying poverty of the Same. In Ex-votos, there is also an ongoing request for a gift not yet granted, but whose yearning is to confront the mystery and drink its vital sap. It is only natural that some works remain unexplained and ineffable, like the couple of sceptre-poems by Catarina Silva (Grande Ceptro do Amor, 2022 and Ex-Voto, 2023) – their presence alone is enough to conjure up other choreographies and rituals of the sensitive, dribbling and bewitching “the logics that want to capture life in a single model, almost always associated with a productivist and utilitarian sense” [4].

I, who chase after transcendence in a desperate attempt to experience the worlds re-enchantment through my own, have finally found it, at least for one afternoon.

Ex-votos is at Brotéria, in Lisbon, until March 25, 2023.




[1] Simas, Luiz Antonio; Rufino, Luiz. (2020). Encantamento: sobre política de vida. Rio de Janeiro: Mórula, digital version, n.p. Available at <>.

[2] Ibid., n.p.

[3] Le Guin, Ursula K. (2022). A Ficção como Cesta: Uma Teoria e outros textos. Lisbon: Dois Dias.

[4] Simas; Rufino, op. cit., n.p.

Laila Algaves Nuñez (Rio de Janeiro, 1997) is an independent researcher, writer and project manager in cultural communication, particularly interested in the future studies developed in philosophy and the arts, as well as in trans-feminist contributions to imagination and social and ecological thought. With a BA in Social Communication with a major in Cinema (PUC-Rio) and a MA in Aesthetics and Artistic Studies (NOVA FCSH), she collaborates professionally with various national and international initiatives and institutions, such as BoCA - Biennial of Contemporary Arts, Futurama - Cultural and Artistic Ecosystem of Baixo Alentejo and Terra Batida / Rita Natálio.

Signup for our newsletter!

I accept the Privacy Policy

Subscribe Umbigo

4 issues > €34

(free shipping to Portugal)