alfonso artiaco
alfonso artiaco
founded in 1986


Maria Thereza Alves
Nevermore/Evermore, 2021
digital photograph of Pompeian pottery shards, sound excerpts, JavaScript
Courtesy the Artist
Photo Maria Thereza Alves, Amedeo Benestante, Elisa Strinna

Millions of people visit the ruins of Pompeii. Many others read about it and see images, but it is not the ruins that impress us; it is the fact of partially experiencing different people in a different time to which we feel connected. This is the value of Pompeii. As the Western world becomes more aware of its own histories and predicaments it seems appropriate to attempt to connect Pompeii to other phenomena which have been concealed. Maria Thereza Alves’ new work for Pompeii Commitment is at once a celebration of the creativity and resilience of Black American women in the music world as well as an open reflection on the impact of Western colonization on ancestral heritage and local archaeological histories in the Americas. These complementary approaches are evoked in Nevermore/Evermore through the interactive combination of image and sound: a selection of archaeological pottery shards from Pompeii storerooms – arranged and photographed in the fashion of a museum vitrine – become the carrier of music excerpts from different songs by African American women singers of the twentieth century. The protagonists of Nevermore/Evermore are “creative women,” says the artist, “predominantly from economically harsh backgrounds, who would have had mostly menial career options at the time. They bravely made spaces for their histories that live today. The singers in this work are women who were born before the Civil Rights Movement. Singers who would not be allowed to come in through the front doors of the nightclubs they were the stars of, or use any of its services. Still these women persisted and made music – glorious songs, of the world around them such as Bessie Jones’s ‘I am Rollin Through This Unfriendly World’, or Flora Molton’s good advice that ‘Your Enemy Can’t Harm You’, and of hopes as in Bessie Smith’s ‘Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl’.” Through the overlapping and linking of these “pieces” – aural and material – which sit on very different historical trajectories, Alves’s work draws our attention to the ancestry of these singers, pointing to how the dynamics of modern colonization implied forms of historical erasure as white settlers did not value, care, nor try to preserve cultural expressions of the populations they oppressed and, in Alves’ words, “forcibly removed from worlds”. Indigenous American and African languages, stories, songs, Gods and art, including musical instruments, were prohibited in the United States, and so was the education of the enslaved. Through her Pompeii Commitment project, Alves thus poses this question: “What a world would it be if the seriousness, expertise and resources used in the West – as exemplified by the essential archeological work carried out in Pompeii – were applied to also study Black and Indigenous archeological sites throughout the Americas, instead of ignoring, concealing or destroying them?”. The vast, layered and widely known cultural heritage located in Pompeii – which, upon its discovery, became a modern landmark of the Western Grand Tour, and still remains a popular destination of contemporary global tourism – becomes a term of comparison for the artist to highlight how systemic oppression has deprived many individuals and cultures of the opportunity to hold onto and refer to archaeological matters belonging to their ancestors – thus also denying them the possibility to access the knowledge and stories which archaeological objects embody. SB-AV

Maria Thereza Alves. Nevermore/Evermore

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