Meet the artists: Tura Oliveira

Meet the artists: Tura Oliveira

Tura Oliveira in their studio, 2024, photo by Luana Rigolli
Tura Oliveira in their studio, 2024, photo by Luana Rigolli

An interview with Tura Oliveira, Abbey Scholar in Painting, in which she speaks about the work she has produced during her residency at the BSR from March – June 2024, ahead of the Summer Open Studios.

In the past two months you have taken part in two group exhibitions in Rome, one at Palazzo delle Esposizioni entitled EXPODEMIC and one at the BSR gallery entitled  You were kept awake all through the night. Can you tell us about the works that are on view in those shows?

My work at Palazzo delle Esposizioni, titled A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, is graphite on a dyed, reclaimed linen tablecloth, with hand-dyed silk. It’s mounted on the wall using silver-plated casts of lamb’s hooves sourced from a butcher in Rome. Additionally, several graphite works are directly drawn on the gallery wall. The central image draws from the myths of Actaeon, Apollo and Daphne, Hayez’s Maria Maddalena Penitente, depictions of virgin martyrs Sant’Agnese, Santa Cecilia, and Sant’Agata, as well as Bernini’s two Santa Teresas, and the graphic, violent scenes typical of Italian giallo films. The lamb’s foot is tied to the iconographic association of Sant’Agnese and other virgin martyrs with lambs. I am interested in the association of lambs with labor, textiles, the pastoral, and female purity. I am influenced by the presence of lamb in Roman and Abruzzese cuisine, Etruscan haruspicy (divination using sheep livers), and the visual relationship between entrails and serpents, tentacles, labyrinths, and termite tunnels. 

Process image of A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin, from the artist’s studio, 2024, photo by the artist
Detail from A Lizard in a Woman’s Skin
Liver of Piacenza, National Etruscan Museum of Villa Giulia, late 2nd century BC, wikicommons
Lamb’s foot, from the artist’s studio 2024
Cast Lamb’s Foot, from the artist’s studio 2024

My site-specific installation in You were kept awake all through the night uses reclaimed fabric bunched and sagging off of the column to create an image that speaks directly to the accompanying work on linen. The fabric remnants, including overalls, jeans, nightgowns, towels, and tablecloths remain identifiable. The draped fabric distorts the column, extending the image into the gallery space and evoking the drapery seen in baroque sculpture.

Haruspicy, installation view of the exhibitiuon "You were kept awake all through the night", photo by Roberto Apa

The works at BSR and Palazzo delle Esposizioni explore hagiographies and their slippery relationship with truth, sanity, and the body. I draw inspiration from Italian Giallo films to reimagine the portrayal of virgin martyrs, nymphs, satyrs, and the penitent Mary Magdalene through a lens of body horror. The works extrapolate on descriptions of Mary Magdalene’s hermetic life as described in The Golden Legend, and collapse her narrative with those of early roman virgin martyrs and late medieval and renaissance women mystics. At the BSR, the Magdalene figure takes the form of a hair-covered serpent who gazes upward at a vision of an alien insect queen. In the work at Palazzo delle Esposizioni, she appears in ecstatic semi-consciousness as she grows the ears of a satyr, her legs turning into hair-covered tentacles sprouting distorted dogs heads that disembowel a fleeing figure mid-transformation into a bull.

Maria Maddalena Penitent after Baglione, 2024. Install view of the exhibitiuon "You were kept awake all through the night", photo by Roberto Apa

What are your future plans once you wrap up at the BSR?

After BSR I’m headed back to New York to finish work for a two person show with Baxter Kozoil at Yve Yang Gallery. The show opens on September 14th and will feature cast sculptures I made while at the BSR, along with several textile works also made during my time here. I am also looking forward to a conversation with the historian Silvia Mantini at MAXXI L’Aquila in early July. My research at the BSR has inspired writing that will form the basis for a narrative video piece. The piece combines the writings of Italian women mystics with Giallo tropes and aesthetics to examine the hazy line between mystic vision and demonic possession. The narrative follows a young woman plagued by gruesome visions, paranoia, and hallucinations of her former lover. It jumps in time and space between summer in Rome and winter in Abruzzo. The autobiographical writings of women mystics like Apollonia Ventiquattro and Camilla Battista da Varano, and the demonic possession of 17th century Sicilian nun Sister Maria Crocifissa, and the sapphic poems of Laudomia Forteguerri, lend text and imagery.

Funerary Monument, Giovanni Antonio Tenerello, Chiesa San Domenico Maggiore Cappella di San Giovanni Battista, Napoli, photo by the artist
Detail from Madonna of Humility Fra Filippo Lippi, Castello Sforzesco, Milan, 1430, photo by the artist

I am interested in Renaissance and Baroque depictions of martyrdom, ecstasy, and violence, how those images dovetail with gialli from the 70s and 80s, and how these narratives might speak to contemporary questions about gender, sexuality, hybridity, and the body. The work will utilize not only the formal and narrative elements of Giallo films, but also the floating voices and failed speech, and sensitivity to social context present in the genre. I’m hoping to come back to Italy sometime in 2025-2026 to research and shoot the piece.

Here is an excerpt from the text that I have been writing, this one based on excerpts from the autobiography of Abruzzese mystic Apollonia Ventiquattro from Silvia Mantini’s La Quiete Di Apollonia:

“I looked between the curtains, and then lay back down until the evening. I went to bed with the usual pains in my heart, my head flapped like a reed in the wind, a tremor to the nerves, so much that I could not set my feet on the ground. The smell of the jasmine ushered in through the window by the rising tide of hot air gave me the feeling of being gently poisoned.

I ate half the egg in the morning and half in the evening, and after it was cracked open, with a chick dead inside if I’m not mistaken, I ate it without saying anything and then went off to eat the liver, which sometimes was so full of worms that make those big flies on summer days. And then came the heat. The tail lights of the car sketch out the contours of the snow drift in wet and blinding red.

Behind the house is a clearing with a low stone wall. The rattled bleating of a sheep rolls out over the snow drifts. Taking a step closer, you see her laying on the ground, melting a circle all the way to the green grass with her breath and the hot liquids that run down her back legs. Behind a curtain of tangled limbs, the newborn lamb opens its eyes and takes one long and shuddering breath. You can feel the inside of you dripping, you don’t know what internal attraction passed through you to the bowels of truth, you declare to yourself that you are no less than a shadow.

She gives you pleasure in the form of a ring of light, accompanied by such an excessive pain that it makes you scream out loud. Her voice is like a sharp sword and with it comes bloody discharge and muscle spasms, pale, melancholy, and poor health, staying in bed with the curtains drawn, waiting for sunset.”

Penitent Mary Magdalene, Francesco Hayez, Galleria d'Arte Moderna, Milan, 1825, wikicommons
Process image, from the artist’s studio 2024

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