Maria Oliveira‘s photographs from ‘Under the Surveillance of Ancient Animals’ is a journey through memory, of the present looking back into the past, of an artist looking into her childhood home and rediscovering a place that has become timeless, ossified in her mind; the people, the landscape the rhythms of life.
Having left her home many years ago Oliveira has returned to the place of her birth to delve into a formative period of her life, a harmonious childhood that was oblivious to the injustices of the world and the malign influence of globalisation. From these pictures we get a sense of a rural idyll; empty paths, silent houses, farmyard animals and small farmers in the mountains of Portugal tending their flocks, living as their forefathers did, in peace and in commune with the environment and the history of the soil that they rely upon.
This deliberate attention to what once was reminds us that it may not remain for much longer as industrialised farming methods and the empty promises of jobs in the city lay waste to the traditions and cultures of the people who still hold on to their stories, to their way of life. Their soul and sense of being. Here in Ireland we have lost much of our culture and identity with many of us succumbing to plastic materiality, our wanton desire to consume obliterating our sense of who we are. But Oliveira’s photographs give us hope. There are still pockets of resistance, there are still places that breathe outside the bubble of capitalism we have created for ourselves. It’s this recognition of what was and what can be again that makes these photographs so important. The photographer as both documentarian, diarist and poet, each image a refutation, a stalwart against the monotony of global hegemony. Here’s what she has to say about her work:
[This] is a project based on the place where I was born and where I grew up. It works as annotations of my return to this important period of my life, the memories that I have and the way I feel this place now after many years away. The space is changing, but also my relation with it, and this is that interest me.
This place appears to me now as a place mute, serene, where there’s no time, it is stopped, apart of the rhythm of the world. People and a primordial connection to nature. Empty paths, silent houses and the animals as the last guardians of a home.