Mute Legacies: Silent Practices of Resilience

Joana Pereira

PhD Viva completed 2019-2020

You see as you move and you move as you see, 2015, Powdered drawing on floor

Joana Pereira: Mute Legacies: Silent Practices of Resilience


With the title Mute Legacies: Silent Practices of Resilience, my practice-led research focuses on the relationship between power and the exercise of speech. It considers connections between silence and the body that form a space where vulnerability and social injustice become manifest. It examines these through ideas of muteness. I trace evidence of this relationship back to my own childhood and the history of my country, Portugal, since 1974, following 48 years of fascist dictatorship under the Estado Novo (‘New State’) regime of António de Oliveira Salazar and his successor, Marcelo Caetano. It is precisely this cultural and political legacy that gains preponderance as this project develops and eventually comes to inform (demand) an art practice that tends toward a ‘poor’, minor, and precarious aesthetic, posing questions of value and permanence. Yet the aim of this PhD is neither to revisit the past nor to uncover this long period of silence. Instead, I ‘walk nearby’, revolving around personal memories and experiences, to address that which has largely fallen outside of speech, sight and authority – namely, poverty and illiteracy. My study seeks to offer new insights into silence and also into new art practices that explore and interrogate static notions of legacy as a means of demonstrating resilience. It questions whether an art practice can meaningfully both escape and contest authoritarian and dominant narratives through muteness. As Roland Barthes has noted, silence, always at the level of the implicit, has a ‘speechly’ substance that escapes control. What I therefore propose is an original approach to muteness that challenges its perception as a lack to demonstrate that muteness can in fact – paradoxically – have something to do with diversity and mobility. What I set out to do is to explore the possibility of muteness both as subject and methodology of research through an art practice that explores writing and its silences and through work consisting of prints, videos and installations that privilege the fragile and provisional. Not-saying and not-making become almost as important as what is said and done. This, I argue, is neither a matter of hiding nor of leaving things unfinished; it consists rather of leaving things open.