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28 February 2020

Visual Soul Searching after Geographical and Familial Separation

28 February 2020 - Written by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

Drawing inspiration from aspects of Magical Realism and the Anthropophagic Manifesto, Cecilia Sordi Campos explores the parallels between her migration from Brazil to Australia and her recent marital separation.

© Cecilia Sordi Campos, from the series Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba

Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba is a project that started with the objective to try to understand the photographer’s migration from Brazil to Australia, in sync, with her recent separation from her husband of 10 years. Cecilia aimed to create certain visual provocation while producing the series, as well as representation of self-search. The results are seductive and somehow playful. She keeps us at awe.

Firstly, could you talk about the title of the series, Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba? What does it mean and how did it come about?

The title Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba, which roughly translates from Portuguese to English as There are Maggots in this Guava, alludes to my childhood memories of stealing guavas from people’s trees in Brazil, and the expectation of cracking the guava open and the possibility of finding maggots inside being more exhilarating than eating the fruit itself. Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba also serves as a cliché for the period that followed my separation from my husband after 10 years. Once I recognised the dynamics of my relationship with him were in fact volatile and abusive, I left him. Upon leaving him, a very emotional period preceded, and through this period I began to find exhilarating moments of pleasure and joy in the banal.

© Cecilia Sordi Campos, from the series Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba

In your statement you mentioned that this work explores the layers that constitute your hybrid identity - could you elaborate more on that? Does it refer to your culture, gender, and artistic identity?

Due to my migration from Brazil to Australia, I have always felt deprived of senses of identity and place of belonging - geographically and metaphorically. However, my separation was the catalyst for the re-exploration and reconnection to the layers that constituted my identity. Whilst married, I became completely alienated from Brazilian culture as I had simply chosen to conform, albeit unconsciously, to the attributes my ex-husband attempted to impose on me, as well as to an “Aussie” lifestyle. As I began to forget my mother tongue, I recognised I was removing the last part of me that had any connection to my Brazilian identity in order to conform to life in Australia. Upon analysing the emotions and thoughts after leaving my husband, parallels between my migration and my separation were established; the deprived senses of belonging and identity began to be exceptionally reoccurring. The layers of what I believed also constituted my identity began to rupture. I was no longer a wife and had once more entered a state of in-betweenness; single, yet, still legally married.

My identity ‘crisis’ officially began when a friend of mine abruptly proclaimed I was not white, I was Latino. I had never thought about my race or the colour of my skin prior to that comment, neither had I thought about being Brazilian growing up. Since my migration to Australia, being Brazilian became part of a daily ritual – I am asked about my place of origin every single day. Upon hearing “you are Latino”, I concluded Latino, alongside Brazilian and Australian, had become another layer of my identity. Upon further reflecting on those words, I recognised my ethnicity is more extensive than Brazilian, Australian and Latino. I am of European and African heritage. I’m both the coloniser and the colonised. Therefore, through the making of Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba and through the exploration of my brasilidade, or Brazilian identity, I established my identity in fact hybrid.

The project has a quality of liberation. How did this feel as a photographer and in comparison with your previous work?

My previous work Moths Drink Tears of Sleeping Birds explored the period of finally coming to terms with the nature and dynamics of familial and intimate relationships. As the project was about the realisation of emotional abuse and control, it was very much contrived in the way I made the images, especially in regard to the technical and aesthetic aspects. The constructed imagery reflects how I felt during that period; controlled, raw, exposed and strained - physically and mentally. The images were also a lot darker and melancholic compared to the ones in Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba.

My approach during the making of Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba couldn't have been any more different. Most of the images were made during a three-week period in Brazil last July. I went back home for the first time as a single woman who was learning how to live life without emotional abuse for the first time in ten years. Going back home was liberating as I finally allowed myself to be seduced and ultimately fall in love with my birthplace once more. Whilst there, I simply made images, without censorship or constraints. The erotic imagery is a collection of uncensored perceptions of my being seduced by Brazil, but it also represents the liberation and the embracing of my sensual self from the confines of a constricting and emotionally abusive marriage.

© Cecilia Sordi Campos, from the series Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba

While producing this series, did you feel vulnerable or relieved?

Definitely both. Tem Bigato Nessa Goiaba was extremely difficult to make, albeit necessary. Through the making of this project, which also includes moving images and a book, I performed a cathartic ritual that allowed me to feel extremely conflicting emotions and inherently accept that I may carry trauma and wounds indefinitely. This cathartic ritual also allowed me a means of evoking my origins in a new and cultural setting. Through it, I assert my Brazilian heritage and embrace what I discovered to be my hybrid identity. While I did not intend to provide an effective solution to overcoming emotional abuse and trauma; I attempted to understand the non-linear period that succeeds the coming out of an emotionally abusive relationship.

The photographs don't quite reveal where were these taken, Brazil or Australia, was this a deliberate choice?

This was undoubtedly a deliberate choice. However, I do not have an issue in disclosing where the images were made. Most of the images were taken in Brazil, except for the disembodied self-portraits - these were taken in Australia. The exact location is not revealed in the project as to me it was more important that the images reflected the state of in-betweenness that I have become quite familiar with since my migration. I now recognise this in-betweenness as a congruous unity of my two homes.

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Cecilia Sordi Campos is a Brazilian photographer currently based in Australia. She has exhibited her work widely across different events in Australia and China and was a Finalist (Main Prize Honorable Mention awardee) in the PHmuseum 2019 Women Photographers Grant. Follow her on Instagram.

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo is a Venezuelan photographer and curator based in Hong Kong. In 2014, she founded Foto Féminas, a platform that promotes the works of female Latin American and Caribbean photographers. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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This article is part of In Focus: Latin American Female Photographers, a monthly series curated by Verónica Sanchis Bencomo focusing on the works of female visual storytellers working and living in Latin America.

Written by

Verónica Sanchis Bencomo

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