Performance, Lisbon, 2022.

Often intersecting fiction and reality, the work of artist Maíra Ortins takes on Migration and the Diaspora as conditions for a suspended sense of Identity. In this sense, her work delves into the political, social, and ecological facets of sea crossings, past and present, through an interdisciplinary practice that includes photography, painting, and performance.

The presented series, Khôra, is a photo performance project developed between 2015 and 2020, among communities of immigrants, refugees, and other socially excluded groups from Barcelona and Belgrade, Senador Pompeu, Redenção, and several boroughs on the outskirts of Fortaleza, Brazil.

Being a migrant often carries a notion of identity detached from the sense of belonging to a place. This privation or non-identification with a territory, that may characterize the migrant person, results in a state of permanent suspension (reinforced by the fact that the migrant subject is often placed in refugee camps), thus making him an easy target of prejudice, and social exclusion, deprived of basic citizenship rights. Eventually, this alien status can result in the denial of the subject’s humanity. 

It is in the lived experience of this state of gap that the artist has placed Khôra. Borrowed from Philosophy, this term is originally found in Plato’s Timaeus, where Khôra is defined as a space of dialogue, a suspended temporality that stems from the dialectics between the material and the intelligible, through which all passes but nothing is retained. Jacques Derrida uses the term in the sense of otherness, a “place to be”; and Martin Heidegger posits it as an “intrinsic brightness”, in which the being occurs or takes place.

As a concept, Khôra is, thus, deeply rooted in the idea of impermanence and alterity: a time and a space of transit, both uncharacteristic and depersonalized: a Non-place.

Maíra Ortins’ photography depicts immigrants and refugees of different nationalities, photographed in their work or recreation environments, accompanied by a masked character. In other images, we find this character surrounded by ruins, spaces originally built to detain migrants from Brazil’s countryside, strangers in their land. Here, the character makes apparent what is absent: the bodies, the voices, and the place of those who have been there.

This masked character is Judith, an archetypal figure created by the artist, stemming from the association between the sea crossing and the crossing of the Underworld River of Hades, in ancient Greek mythology. Judith is, in a way, Charon, the boatman who guides the souls through the rivers Styx and Acheron, but also the human trafficker, who smuggles human lives into Europe. However, the destiny that awaits them is not hell, but the consequences of international Necropolitics. 

Using masks that refer to cultures other than those of the represented communities, Judith becomes, herself, a stranger in the crowd, thus inverting the usual sense of “alien” that these persons are used to in their day-to-day lives: this reframing causes, ultimately, a new sense of identity with the place.

Jorge Catarino, curator, Lisbon, 2022

Senador Pompeu, 2018. Brazil
Pirambu, Fortaleza, Brazil, 2020


Rendeção, Brazil, 2018.

Serbia Belgrade, 2015. Syrians

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