Maria Thereza Alves

Recipes for Survival
Seeing you

A Casa da Maria (Maria’s House)


A Casa da Maria (Maria’s House), 2020

Mixed media installation
Dimensions variable

Throughout Brazil, monuments celebrate colonialism and genocide. I want to celebrate the courage of Maria, and so thought it important to represent her house at the Biennale of Sydney – not as monument but as testimony. The legacy of her courage offers a space for the project OIKOVYTERI ITEKO'A MÔINGUEVYA (Decolonisation continues), to foster an Indigenous-led discussion about Brazilian history, the environment and society.


In my father’s village in Brazil there is no one who is Indigenous who will admit it except for Maria.

I returned there in 1983, with my new skills in writing and photography and asked, “What do we want the world to now about us?”

Maria asked for a photograph of herself with no kerchief on her head. She did not want foreigners to think she had white hair just because she was old. As she arranged her hair, she proudly said, “I’m ninety-eight and I don’t have one white hair. It’s all black. The people here think I’m Italian because of my black hair and fair skin but I am Bugre, pure Bugre. That’s why I don’t have white hair.”

Bugre is a racist word used prejoratively and at the same time to deliberately de-ethnicize Indigenous peoples. Maria inverted the that horrible word into pride.

Maria was born in 1885 and for the first thirty years of her life it was considered legal to hunt and kill her in the state of Parana in Brazil. Today it is one of the whitest states in Brazil , along with the states of Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul which also had legalized extermination of Indigenous peoples until 1914. In some municipalities of these states it is obligatory to teach German or Italian in schools but no Indigenous languages are taught.

Maria loved to dance. Her husband liked to stay home and and make wooden bowls and farm tools. The young men in the village learned to dance from her. When she went to a dance she was never left without a partner.

Due to the racism in my father’s village, neither Maria’s children or grandchildren will admit that they are Indigenous. My father is called Rouge (Red) and his best friend was called “Bugre”. But Maria was the the only person with the courage to pubically admit she was indeed Bugre.

In 2017 when I visited the village, I went with her grandchild to visit the forest, now the private property of a fundamentalist Christian pastor of German descent, who advised this young man to read the “the great book, Mein Kampf, by Adolf Hitler.”

In 2018, Maria’s daughter gave me her mother’s house. The house of the last person to say she was Indigenous in the village.

It is hoped that it will become a Guarani cultural center on recognized Indigenous lands.


also part of: