Maria Thereza Alves

Recipes for Survival
Seeing you

Beyond the Painting


Beyond the Painting, 2011

Video transferred to Blu Ray, 23:43 min.
Color, no sound

Alves was commissioned to make a work for the city of Nantes, formerly France’s largest slave port during the 18th and 19th centuries, for May 10, the National Day of the Memory of the Slave Trade in France.
Alves became interested in European classical painting, researching specifically the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries to see how women were depicted by French male painters and if the history of French colonization was evident in the bodies of the women.
During the 17th century there were classical mythical themes such as Diana the Hunter. Women were active agents, standing and in movement such as in the paintings by Nicolas Poussin.
In the 18th century the boudoir and the accompanying voyeur became a prevalent theme. While it was the act of intruding into the feminine there is a sense that women are co-agents in desire and pleasure albeit as painted by the men and their bodies are on public display. We see this in the works of Boucher, Watteau and Fragonard.
But in the 19th century, there is Gauguin and his Tahitian paradise with young, very young women. There is “The Harem” and all of the possibilities of depicting many, many women’s bodies in whatever position that is pleasing to the French painter of the time such as Bouchard, Ingres, Bombard and Lamy. The women are usually portrayed laying down, languid, and at times, under the affects of drugs. These women are portrayed as being easily available for pleasure but only as object, many are slaves on sale, and they are no longer active agents.
An open call was made for the participation of Caucasian women from Nantes in a new work by Alves. The artist asked them to remake the poses in these French paintings, resulting in the video work, Beyond the Painting.
During the filming, Alves found it was surprising to see how effortless it was for these women to find the pose and how it had become part of their body and of how they move. Of how much their bodies are, in part, the result of the colonization from the 17th – 20th centuries which are embedded in the flesh of the French Caucasian woman in the 21st century.

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