Meet the artists: Tura Oliveira

Tura Oliveira in their studio. Photo by Luana Rigolli

British School at Rome Blog | January 2023

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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 September – November 2023, ahead of the Winter Open Studios.

How are you developing your research on demonic possession and mystic vision in Rome?

My research has taken me across the city to churches dedicated to female saints, the burial sites and relics of virgin martyrs, and the prison cell and portrait of Beatrice Cenci. I’ve visited shooting locations from a number of Giallo films, including Tenebrae, Inferno, Four Flies on Grey Velvet, The Girl Who Knew Too Much, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, and The Perfume of the Lady in Black. I have found myself in metro stations and in front of facades instantly recognizable and largely unchanged from their appearances in giallo films. Exploring the city on the train and on foot has given me insight into a film genre that furiously picks at the fraying edges of urban life in Italy.

Walking through Prati as the sunlight ebbs away and lights come on in elegant bourgeois apartments, I can place myself in the voyeuristic position of both the giallo director and, more uncomfortably, the lurking giallo slasher. Voids and lacunae in Roman frescos, the stigmata of Santa Teresa and Santa Caterina, Bernini’s hollow grottos, and giallo’s frequent voyeuristic glimpses into the well-appointed apartments of affluent Roman women, parallel one another in my experience of the city. In my work, the fingers of the female mystic and the possessed woman fumble and search for openings in the membrane that lies between conduit and demon, the urban and the wild space, the feminine and the bestial.

I cross through Villa Borghese on foot most nights to get back to the BSR. Among the dust and the acanthus leaves, I am reminded of the forest as the site of the bestial and penitent Maria Maddalena, and the persistent hum of the threat of assault as a woman walking alone at night. The eroticized torture and murder of beautiful women is the bread and butter of both the giallo genre and the hagiographies of virgin martyrs. The fear and desperation of Daphne and Prosperina are captured in marble only a kilometre away at Galleria Borghese. In Rome on Saturday, sparked by the murder of Giulia Cecchettin, half a million demonstrators marched against the epidemic of femicide in Italy.

I think often about Daphne’s transformation into a mute and immovable laurel tree. Watching my shadow distort and elongate in the light of Borghese’s street lamps, I imagine an alternative transformation; the woman hungry for the power that comes with possession, eager to fracture and split into the tentacled-female-serpent-vampire-lesbian-demon-castrating-beast-succubus.

Could you tell us more about your intricate textile-based work, in particular the use of specific materials and techniques?

In my time in Rome, I have been collecting vintage linen tablecloths and other household textiles from secondhand markets. I want to respond to materials that are connected to the working class women of this city, and collaborate across time and space with the women who made these tablecloths. I have also been collecting pieces of hand embroidery, not to use as material but to study the diverse embroidery techniques in Italy. I’ve collected examples of drawn thread embroidery, cutwork, filet lace, punto sforza, and tombolo. For my process, handmade textiles are a connection to a woman’s life, to the hours that they spent with this object. The impulse to cut them up or dismiss them as trinkets is rooted in a broader disdain for women elders and the craft and labor of working class women.