I say and have said



Considerations about the book by Anna Maria Maiolino

Anna Maria Maiolino, by a thread, 1976.

“In life, an end point is always provisional” (Henning Mankell, Kinesen).

In the second part of the poem I'm me (2011), Anna Maria Maiolino brings together, in a paradigmatic way, the three central axes of the book I say and have said (2022):

"I'm me
I chose to live and I live by dying
I chose to be an artist
be a mother
I constantly equate fantasy with reality
between the I am and the I am not
You have to take into account that I'm not from here
I'm not even from there, I'm just passing by
any path will take me somewhere else
I also wash and iron
scream of pleasure and pain
my sex is hollow
in hollow enjoyment.”

The artist, the woman and the immigrant intertwine their trajectories in the poems and memories that make up the book. Organized in the chronological order of their writing and apparently finished, the texts were written and rewritten over time, functioning, in the words of Paloma Durante, “like a constant island of editing of her memory not to add facts to the past, but as a form to update them so that they take place in the present, creating a bridge to continuity, explained by the body of those who will read”.

The discovery that she had a vocation for writing was made in New York, where she was accompanying her husband Rubens Gerchman, a fellow at the Guggenheim Foundation. Mother of two young children, in addition to taking care of the house, she was employed at a textile design studio, not having time to dedicate herself to her own visual work. The condition of “extreme fatigue” and the uneasiness with the situation are noticed by Hélio Oiticica who advises her to take notes: “Draw, write, scribble, write poems. A word, anything... will be a record of existence... an indication, a project... A notebook is accessible and takes up little space. It's easy to carry in your pocket. There is always the possibility of the adventure of a blank sheet of paper, an hour, a minute, an instant” (On the Bowery.

At first reluctant, as she is at the crossroads of three languages ​​– Italian, Spanish and Portuguese – the artist follows her friend's advice and starts carrying a notebook in her bag. She writes poems while her children play in the square. She makes notes on future projects or sketches some sketches and drawings: “The encounter with a blank sheet of paper was incredible. Writing was a way of thinking about myself, about things. I came to realize that, for me, thinking is made up of feeling, I think with feelings. Thinking, then, becomes pure poetry. In it, I found the possibility of creating a work with minimal argument. My vocabulary has been enriched by other tools. […] Even today, thinking does not consist, in my opinion, of something logical, composed. It's like a narrative made of images. […] In this perception I realized that thought would also be a tool for saying things and that it could discard representation. It was poetry that allowed me to take a huge leap towards another existence, in another exercise of living”.

Dating back to 1995, New York memory summons not only the figures of the overworked woman and the suffocated artist (which is expressed in some poems[1]), but also of immigrants without green card who, because he doesn't know how to speak English, shops in Little Italy, where he comes across the harshness of the greengrocer of Italian origin. Even though she feels part of that group of “Latin Americans seeking to snatch crumbs from the rich country”, the artist ends up reminding the merchant – marginalized by American culture and, therefore, “neither fish nor meat” – the rich cultural traditions of the country. native Calabria and Italy in general.

The issue of immigration begins with the poem Four sides (1975), which evokes the move of the Maiolino de Scalea and continues with the evocation of the trip on the vessel that was taking her to Venezuela (My body follows the swaying movement of the ship, 1986), during which she refused to wear the “immigrant” identification badge, as she felt humiliated by “that exposed scar, a glaring stigma of our poverty” (Study art, 1989). The transfer to Venezuela had been preceded by a move to Bari, mentioned in The train to Bari (1989), in which the sadness of leaving Scalea and the death of Antonio, the youngest brother, are mixed. In turn, Migrate as, avi, tuna, are (1991) refers, from the Latin/Italian dictionary, to the different meanings of the verb “immigrate”: “to leave, leave, transfer, take, transgress, violate, die”.

The profound meaning of immigration in his life is evidenced in love fati (2008): “I like to (self) present myself as a point of tension. A nomad who, like every traveler, carries in her soul the subversion of conventions. I’m passing through, I don’t belong anywhere.” This feeling of exile and precariousness extends to others who have lived the same experience. In Poor people's feet have no size (2014), Anna Maria Maiolino narrates the emotion she felt when listening to the story of a Calabrian taxi driver, who had migrated to Milan after the war and whose family was so poor that they only had one pair of shoes worn by everyone. “big occasions, like going to the doctor, going to church”.

This episode sparks reflection on the difficulty European countries have in dealing with the phenomenon of immigration “legal or not” and on the ease with which human beings “forget what they have suffered firsthand. I also thought about how difficult immigration was for many people, for my family and myself, and how important immigrants were for Italy. […] It seems that many Italians, given the response they give to immigration these days, have forgotten this.”

in the poem Sotto voice (2016), in which she reviews the atrocities of the contemporary world, the artist does not fail to remember the issue of immigration:

“There are men, women and children walking on the skyline
One; none; hundred thousand…
They are immigrants.
The Aegean and Mediterranean seas became great cemeteries for shipwrecked people.
The desperate people try to reach safety on the other side of the Mediterranean basin.
The blue blanket of the waters shelters all the nameless.
Nobody claims the drowned bodies.
What to do?"

In visual terms, Anna Maria Maiolino draws a map of her condition as a nomad in an emblematic work entitled Chapter I (1971), which is part of the series Mental maps. Conceived as a field of orthogonal lines, which form a grid of borders and fixed places, the work refers to facts from his life: his birth in Italy in 1942, his childhood symbolized by Bá Carmela and his grandfather, his marriage (Rubens) births (Micael and Verônica), art, different feelings (anguish, loneliness, friendship, questions, sadness, love, joy, restlessness).

If the terms “war” and “hunger” can be seen as a political stance, one cannot forget that the work is deeply autobiographical and that the main line of reading consists of the reconstruction of his immigrant journey: Italy, 1954, travel, South America, Brazil, New York, tropics, return, Brazil, 1960. It is up to the viewer to move the pieces on the chessboard created by the artist and establish a link between the year 1954 (immigration of the Maiolino family to Venezuela) and 1960 (arrival in Rio de Janeiro).

In a letter to psychoanalyst Tania Rivera, dated February 8, 2021, Maiolino describes how he would conceive a new chapter of Mental maps, in order to overcome the immigrant issue and encompass all of humanity in a less exclusionary design. The new map would be “an imaginary white field, infinitely expanded, infinite like the universe. From north to south, from east to west, drawn without subdivisions, without grids, without borders. A great community reminder of emotions would be printed, along with poetry, plus the thinking of philosophers to light up these dark times a little.” It is to poetry that the artist turns to detail what emotions she would like to share with others: the first book in Divine Comedy (1265-1321), by Dante Alighieri; The herd keeper (1925), by Alberto Caieiro; the poems The hollow men (1925), by TS Elliot, and I woman (2017), by Conceição Evaristo; Brazilian popular music song lyrics.

Another “mind map”, dated 1976 and titled Chapter II, addresses the issue of women in an even more radical way. Designed in the same way as the 1971 work, Chapter II represents on a board different moments and feelings of Anna Maria as a woman, all located in the 1970s (1971, 1976, 1974, 1973, 1972, 1975). Brazil as a meeting and starting point, the cities of São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, love, art, children are part of a larger plot that involves poverty, dictatorship, despair, fear, friendship , refuge, certainty, separation, questions, new beginnings, illness, life, death, destiny, loneliness, pain, emptiness, repression, anxiety, panic and poetry.

The artist's acidic vision of that particular moment experienced by Brazil, the directional axis of her visual production, has a parallel in a poem written in 1976, “Creia”. The slogans of the civil-military dictatorship, the fear instilled in society, the brutal repression, the encouragement of individualism, the insistent advertising are interspersed with verses from the national anthem:

Brazil is ours
believe in the three powers
in order and progress
in the printed constitution
and walk straight
like every right man
no protests
do not think
it's dangerous
At that moment the sun of freedom darkened in the sky
death itself challenges our chest
O beloved country!
It won't do you any good to lie in a splendid cradle
to the sound of the sea and the light of the deep sky
illuminated by the sun of the New World
in the giant land by nature itself
whoever says this is wrong
your future will be the mirror of this greatness
no worries!
don't wear yourself out
operate with technology
and third position
Happy birthday!
go ahead
forward that Brazil is ours”.

The political being, who does not shy away from expressing his worldview, as another poem written in 1984 proves, Los disappeared, in which “the heirs of Cortez” are reproached for the train buried “a thousand in shallow graves / without a cross, without anything / sowing the Latin American land with the children of the earth”[3], does not leave an acute reflection on the meaning of being a woman in the background. As a woman, Anna Maria Maiolino has no shame in confessing some intimate feelings. It celebrates the joy that generates a “new body” (Secret poem). It reveals the deep disturbance, mixed with embarrassment and regret, awakened by the sight of an “impudent, open-legged” stone, reminiscent of a “woman recently raped, motionless, […] exhausted” (Looking for a stone for a poem, 1991). He admits that giving birth to his daughter Verônica did not cause him pain, but rather pleasure. One wonders if it was a “physical pleasure, or if in the presence of life birth and sex had been combined into one pleasure by analogy” (Théo, my grandson, was born.

The poem I tell you (1991) can be considered a moment of condensation of her self-perception: “I tell you, / this is me / any woman / with an ordinary life”. As a woman “with an ordinary life”, the artist intertwines The “O” (1987) daily tasks (“The smell of fresh wax and the surrounding order make me feel well-being from the completed task”) with the work of creation. In the studio home he shares with Víctor Grippo in Buenos Aires, “nothing is superfluous. The eating table is also used for working. Kitchen utensils are often auxiliary in the studio work, working with plaster and cement. Everything is for use, spartan, monastic syntheses. At the table where you eat, you work. The pan that cooks the food will then be used to store the materials in a bain-marie. Not even the bed is saved in its use for sleeping and making love, because when necessary, that's where the drawings are placed to dry. We love each other. We belong to each other in this part of the world, the house on Rua Juncal”.

Art, which freed her “from madness, from death” (With open mouth, 1991), which is structured based on your body, seen as “matter / physical is my sexual instinct: oral, anal, genital”, seems not to be enough to face the violence that took over the world in the second decade of the 2000s In the same poem in which he fearlessly exposes the raw material of his creative process (Borges says: Time is the substance of which I am made, 2014), Anna Maria Maiolino declares herself “missing” and wonders which circle of Hell Dante would place her in. Not by chance, this particular question is followed by a question about violence against women and the denunciation of the nations that most oppress them:

“Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, India and Somalia are
 [the five most dangerous countries for women,
Violence, lack of health systems, corruption and poverty put Afghanistan
 [first in ranking world.
Somalia ranks fifth in the ranking, as 955 women were victims of
 [genital mutilation”.

There are moments in the book in which manual work, traditionally considered the territory of the “feminine”, is confused with artistic work. This is what the poems demonstrate The form tries to exist (1993) and As a river runs the line (2001). In the first, the gestation of a work, made of new beginnings, doubts and patience, is presented through objects that refer to sewing: the unwound ball, the end of the thread found, the knot undone, the threaded needle... In the second, thread , dot and reel lose their utilitarian function to become metaphors of creation in the light of Vassili Kandinsky’s thoughts:

"there he is
affirming his nudity in the solitary appearance of the undead that begs for movement
without feeling, the hand obeys him
multiplying he lives
the line that humanizes him is born
make the drawing
the sound
the writing
he shines in the immensity of the firmament
It is the sun that illuminates us
and there went the thread
crossing the door
coming to the kitchen
free and attached to the thread spool.”

This game between art and activities such as sewing is the basis of several works by Anna Maria Maiolino: Loose line (1976, from the series Drawings/Objects), On the line (1976) and Trajectory I (both from the series Books/Objects), in addition to the series evidence (2000-2006). Occupying the front and back of the sheet of paper, the last series is characterized by: “I draw with the sewing line guided by touch/intuition. She works on the back/reverse of the paper at the same time. Once again I find myself back with the obsession of the one and the two, trying to build the one without denying the face that does not appear, the hidden one”.

The thread is also used by the artist as a connecting element between generations and continents in a work from the series Photopoemation (1973-2011). by a thread (1976) shows Vitalia, Anna Maria and Verônica joined by a string inserted into their mouths. The figures of the grandmother, daughter and granddaughter may refer to knowledge passed on to the women in the family, as the string may resemble a strand of pasta. But it is also possible to think that the string symbolizes an umbilical cord that, through Anna Maria, creates an indissoluble link between Italy and South America, represented by the Ecuadorian Vitalia and the Brazilian Verônica.

Present in all the texts that make up the book, the artist carves out a more determined space of her own in poems like With hand holds drawing (1985) With an invisible feather and the heart (1993) Drawing across the threshold of silence (2006) I'm me, Borges says: Time is the substance of which I am made and the memories Study art e The encounter with Brazilian art (1998). Poems can be haiku or spread out in a lyrical flow, in which art and life converge. The haiku is represented in a paradigmatic way by the stanza: “With a safe hand I draw / burning traces in the sky / painful scars / marks of my desire”. The lyrical flow can be summarized in the verses from 2006, in which Anna Maria Maiolino claims the importance of the artist's hand in the creation process, without obeying contemporary fads that seem to want to banish the human:

“Drawing across the threshold of silence
I speak, create and restore worlds between the beginning and infinity
far from new technologies, the actions of my hand and my brain are unified
with him I live
immanent, the design pulses in the genetic code
it is natural necessity, like eating and walking
subtle, it is closer to the psyche than matter
emotions made of dots and lines are enough to drive the breath out of the chest,
placing it on the tip of the tongue, making the mouth water
By placing it at your fingertips, it makes it possible to sketch multiple and opposing realities:
inquisitive marks, projects, signs, traces – times full of visions of signs”.

Although without the same poetic charge, a similar reflection had been outlined in Study art, in which Anna Maria Maiolino evokes the beginning of her artistic studies in Caracas. After being praised by the Pure Art teacher, young Anna Maria feels rewarded for the difficulties she faced at the beginning of her stay in Venezuela:

“What a great possibility of healing art is, in the exercise of freedom of doing. […] By building and rebuilding imaginary worlds, our desire materializes and makes us overcome frustrations. It was in this process of discovering the possibilities of imagination that healed my soul wounded by leaving Italy, troubled by the impact of another culture. The school operates continuous transformations in me. In this alchemical flame, every day, I discover unsuspected worlds outside and inside me. […] I spend many hours in the studios working and in the library browsing art books. […] I like the crafts practiced in the ateliers even more. Working, time passes without feeling it. It seems like my head changes places, joins my hands, absent from my surroundings. Dive so deep... surrendered to doing, absorbed in a time without presences. […] Of all the theoretical classes, “Elements of Expression in Visual Arts and Space” […] is the one I enjoy the most. These classes reveal and affirm the functioning of the system inherent to man that we intuitively use: the relationship of his body/eye with the circumspect physical world and space”.

Internationally recognized artist, who will receive the Golden Lion at the 60th edition of the Venice Biennale (2024), Anna Maria Maiolino will finally be able to symbolically undertake the return journey envisioned in the poem Turn off the light when leaving (2016). The end of a romantic relationship leads her to want to travel:

“'Anna, hurry up, tell me now
I'm already on the road,
I reached the points of the four crossed cardinals
North, South, East, West
I head south, the return route
I urgently need to return home,
the Scalea”.

If not for Scalea, Anna Maria Maiolino will return as a winner to the country in which she was born and from which she was forced to leave, preserving within herself the feeling of being “other” in all the places in which she lived.

* Annateresa Fabris is a retired professor at the Department of Visual Arts at ECA-USP. She is the author, among other books, of Reality and fiction in Latin American photography (UFRGS Publisher).


MAIOLINO, Anna Maria. I say and have said. São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2022, 112 pp. [https://amzn.to/4b9psMc]


DURING, Paloma. “The experience of reading Anna”. In: MAIOLINO, Anna Maria. I say and have said. São Paulo: Ubu Editora, 2022.

GONÇALVES, Vinícius de Oliveira. Anna Maria Maiolino: artistic project under construction. São Paulo: CIAC, 2022. Available at:http://hdl.handle.net/10400.1/19806>

MAIOLINO, Anna Maria; RIVERA, Tania. “Correspondence 1”. Present, apr. 2021. Available at: .


[1] The book contains four poems from 1971. While Secret poem e Sea-sky-love deal with loving fusion and loneliness, respectively, AJJJJJJJJJ e Ar are marked by pain and difficulty breathing.

[2] One could remember, for example, works such as The hero (1966-2000), Schiii (1967) Geographical situation: dark soul of Latin America (1973-1996, from the series Mental maps) to SOS at the Tropic of Capricorn (1974, from the same series).

[3] As part of the series Photopoemation, the artist performs The missing (1979), in which he erases faces and physiognomy with black paint or makes his models wear blindfolds. At installation Las locas: love becomes revolutionary (2022), Maiolino pays homage to the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo, with whom he came into contact during the period he lived in Buenos Aires (1984-1989). A kind of sanctuary with black walls houses effigies molded in clay, which resemble death masks; From the ceiling hang scarves embroidered with the names of the missing.

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