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March '07

art gallery
New Delhi

Curated by
Johny ML


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Being Anast á cia

Artist Mithu Sen culls out valuable information about Santa Anastacia, a woman who was tortured and put to death for speaking out truth and connects them with her works done during her Residency as a part of the UNESCO program in Brazil. In the second part we present a few haiku like poems written by the artist.

Mithu Sen

The legendary slave and Angolan princess Anastácia was brought to Brazil where she became the mistress of her white master. In her life, Anastácia was very beautiful and consequently the object of envy, prejudice, and sexual abuse. She was a peace-loving person who alleviated the suffering of others. Anastácia was also a strong and vocal woman who resisted all the impositions of a prejudiced society and who for talking back to her master was forced to wear a muzzle, a ceramic or iron disk secured by a leather strap. This form of torture eroded the mouth, which led to starvation. After developing gangrene, she died.

In Brazil, Anastácia is sanctified, though she is not officially considered a "Saint." In other words, many followers regard her as holy and claim miracles on her behalf, but the Catholic Church has not canonized her. Nevertheless, Anastácia's attempt to voice her oppression and her martyrdom became an inspiration to other Afro-Brazilians who pay their respects to makes her sanctity, her saintliness, which is more distinguished and noticeable.

What is behind the mask of Anast á cia? What is the source of the gangrene?
What is the origin of pain?
 How the dream and desires are  "silenced "by the invisible masks?
Santa Anast á cia was masked for her desires, for speaking out. 

The images of the masked women/girls and others are from the Island of Itaparica, Brazil, I found the young girls in a local "fashion show" for raising money for women.   Few of the girls I became friendly with and interviewed, had heard of Santa Anast ácia; most had not. Eighty per cent of the girls I spend time with said that they dream of becoming a model.

Most of the girls want to marry a foreigner (as Santa Anast ácia refused to do).

I asked the girls to put on the mask of hair (hair mask, hair shirt) in part to sanctify them, to align or associate them with divinity, the goddess, the saint;   (……..theirs is not an official canonization; it is un-authorized, thus it stands outside the structures of conventional authority and power) then I kept on asking and putting the mask on different people, different things….slowly on animals….trees, plants… mary( statue!!),tea pots….President Lula ( poster)… etc etc….with the "silencing" game !!


The figure in the video (myself) is unmasked and the origin of pain is hidden from the viewer (I was being tattooed).   
 It is all about the Masking pain. being masked while being in crowd, being in exile, being at 'home', being a foreigner, being wounded   and  being resistant…. a gangrene grows…..invisible to the eye…..

What pain is masked ? Bearing pain—bearing up, bearing it and baring it.
I do not present Santa Anast á cia as an object for   delectation; a spectacle for curious eyes, a novelty. The real subject here is history and the marks it leaves on the body; and the marks that are not left, the ones that go unrecorded , the gap between the official (hi)story and the unofficial (hi)story. The mask that history wears, the wounds it masks and makes.


Poems by Mithu Sen

The dead fish on the beach..
Becoming earth
No longer a fish
Becoming a pattern
I lift my skirt to walk through the sea


I kiss your mouth
U translate my tongue


Its smelly everywhere
The smell of caneleira
Of cinnamon tree
In my tea
In your breath…..


I See u soon
In next life
If u late
I will walk

Slowly and gradually
The water is close
Nothing to grasp
Nothing to flow


Yes I am
Someone else
For a while

I think of the time
We decorated our house with plants and waters

Hold my wrists
Don't want to listen that old fortune teller


It is so dark
Not even the face
Of I love
Can be seen


I could not go to u
Coz I was the other woman


Song to be sung
Under the tree
Under the sea
Under me



That crime
I havnt committed yet
But longing for
The same river
River bed
Intricate paths
Same veins, wrinkles
The same u
Balanced  unbalanced

No light, no dark
No shades instead
So flat…damn flat
Send me some shadows
Send me some greys
Let me feel the dimensions
I laughed at
There were tears
In my/yours eyes
I make paper boats
Send them to friends
'burn them' I request
some did, some not



 i found a chain with a pendant
this is a ''good luck" in bahia
i found two 'good lucks' in the beach
last evening

with this tidal flow
let me boiled alive
no exit
let myself be nailed

no schedule
no agenda
no ''shoulds'" ...
an unchanted time
am fundamentally restless.....

shifted and shifted....
and edited....




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