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Arts & Humanities Research (MPhil) (PhD)

Joana Maria Pereira

Research Project Title: Mute legacies: Silent Practices of Resilience.

Supervisor(s): Dr Nicky Coutts, Professor Jo Stockham

This 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 increasingly prevails as this project develops and eventually comes to inform (demand) an art practice that tends towards a ‘poor’, minor, and precarious aesthetic, posing questions of value and permanence. In this research, ‘muteness’ is thus itself a question. Why are these legacies mute? 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.

This 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.

I set out to explore the possibility of muteness as both a subject and a 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.

Joana Maria Pereira is an artist and researcher. Pereira studied Sculpture at the University of Porto, where she also completed an MA in Drawing and Printmaking in 2009. Since then, she has been using mostly fragile, affordable and found materials to create works of a performative and provisional nature.

At the Royal College of Art in London, Joana has developed a PhD project that examines the potentiality of silence to transform and to operate as a form of resilience through art, and that sheds new light on the discussion about voice and privilege, marginality and vulnerability. She has become increasingly interested in the political dimension of private life, looking in particular at the notion of legacy as an invisible burden that is carried both individually and collectively. 

Joana’s practice often produces minor interventions, and is characterised by a special attention to detail and duration. This economy of means and the focus on the poverty of mediums and materials is a way for the artist to prompt questions about dominance and value.  


Powdered drawing on floor

In the last few months in the studio, while working on the writing, my gaze has been constantly directed towards two tiny pieces of paper stapled to the wall. It is the way the paper slightly folds, and how it seems to change depending on how the light strikes it, that catches my attention.

Before and After the National Archive (2019) was there already, right before me, when I moved to Ransome’s Dock. The work became about the invisibility of the work, about the possibility of exhibiting a work without producing any work.

I had photographed the studio wall in September 2018. In October 2019, by the time I visited the National Archive in Lisbon, the thought of the two invisible staples attached to my studio wall returned to my mind. The encounter with the archival material (in its diversity of sizes, colours, thicknesses and textures) marked by time, made me think that some images (documents) are also sculptural, in the sense that they stand in for the body, silently exposing the vulnerability of our own material existence.


MDF studio wall piece, paper, staples


22x22 cm


Glass, black carbon paper, tape, wall drawings


2 x (14 X 8, 5 cm) and 3 x (14 X 8, 5 cm)
Dancing Grains [Stills]

Dancing Grains was inspired by Francis Alÿs’s animation Song for Lupita (1998), in which a woman pours water from one glass into another. The title, Dancing Grains (‘which are not made to be seen’), is drawn from a text in which Gilles Deleuze – describing the work of French filmmaker Philippe Garrel – points to the importance of a different mode of presence in modern cinema. A cinema, writes, Deleuze, in which ‘the problem is not that of a presence of bodies, but that of a belief which is capable of restoring the world and the body to us on the basis of what signifies their absence.’

My focus on dust relates not only to invisibility and mobility, but also to weight: the materiality of dust. A snowflake, a seed or a grain, a minor and insignificant detail: which is also the soil engraved in the bare feet of the old peasant woman, or ‘the seed which splits open the paving-stones.’

As Hélène Cixous suggested: to make art with the earth. 


Video performance

July: it has been quite a hot summer. I visit the Alberto Sampaio Museum twice, alone. Almost inevitably I return to the same spot, I sit on the floor cross-legged looking at the big olive tree standing right in front of me. It feels as if the cloister that dates from the thirteenth century was built around it: as if the cloister is embracing it. From where I am, I can see little bits of archaeological fragments apparently left there at random, forgotten – and which maybe you don’t see until you sit down – but which punctuate the space in an unexpected way. But nothing strikes me more than the two workers, crossing my field of vision every fifteen minutes, pushing an improvised trolley with a rope. I think that would be enough: that trolley moving every fifteen minutes.


Stone lithography on office paper, trancing paper, check, clip, found letter and glass, wood structure


9 x 61 x 139 cm

FCT - Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia