Episode 1: Living Through Art
with Maristella dos Anjos
Jamie: Welcome all to the podcast Brazil Culture Connections (Conexões Culturais Brasil). My name is Jamie Lee Andreson. I began this project during the pandemic as a way to reconnect with the networks of artists and cultural leaders that I had the privilege to meet through my associations and projects in Brazil as a researcher, cultural producer, and writer based in Salvador of Bahia. All the episodes will be transcribed and translated into English, available on our website along with more information and the works of the interviewees as a way to build bridges of cultural exchange between Brazil and the English-speaking world. Today I have the pleasure of welcoming Maristella dos Anjos: plastic artist, ceramist, entrepreneur, and a dear friend from the Dois de Julho neighborhood in Salvador, Bahia. Welcome, Maristella.
Maristella: Welcome, Dr. Jamie Lee. It is a pleasure. We met through a great, huge project, which was the House of Sustainable Arts, a project planted here in Salvador in the Dois de Julho neighborhood. And from there our friendship grew. We were neighbors, and you watched by my side, and art is what made our friendship so strong and so solid.
J: I thank you for the friendship, and also you helped me think about this project that we are starting today because I wanted to reconnect with all the contacts I made with incredible artists that I had the privilege of meeting when I acted as the director and co-founder of the House of Sustainable Arts, an artistic residency located in the historic center of Salvador. I was lucky to have Maristella and her atelier, Mão Terra (Earth’s Hand), as my neighbor. I really needed her support in many moments because it is challenging, right, to have your own business, to be a female entrepreneur in this cultural scene of Salvador. And Maristella, she guided me, she calmed me in multiple moments, and that was really important for me to have this space of art, of resistance that is Maristella’s atelier. So, I wanted to know more about the process of establishing your atelier. How did you start it, tell us about your trajectory in the arts and specifically in ceramics?
M: Yes. You also encouraged me a lot because in reality, you as a foreign woman entered into a universe that was totally unknown to you. You were highly courageous. Because besides an entrepreneur, you were a foreigner, a woman alone, and you embraced it. So, it was very difficult for you in such a misogynistic universe that we live in. So, we held hands and went forward. We went forward. So much so that we are still continuing on. The House of Sustainable Arts is here, strong and steady. And we are bringing it forward. As to my trajectory with Mão Terra, for many years it was very difficult, because in reality I started the society, which was, it was me and another man. Except that I realized that I was being manipulated. I was being used. So that what I had, in reality I did not have. The money. But I had something that was very strong: drive and knowledge. We dissolved this society, and I went forward. I always searched for the theme of sacred images because in reality the Atelier is a space that intends to disseminate the local culture, Bahian culture, Brazilian culture, that is this mixture of Catholicism and Candomblé with Umbanda. This strong combination exists. So much so that those that go to Catholic Church also go to the Candomblé temples and vice-versa, understand? It is an extremely, extremely mystic city with a very diversified culture.
“To do a work of art, you have to have a clean soul .”Maristella dos Anjos
J: Yes, yes. And how was it that you decided to be a ceramicist? How was the process of you discovering your passion?
M: Look, in reality, since I was young, I was always attracted to art. I always was. I am from a small city, in the interior of Bahia, which is about 383 kilometers from Salvador. It is a city that doesn’t have a lot going on. You didn’t have opportunities to develop your work. When I came to live in Salvador this desire was dormant in me. But really, I looked for other ways to survive. Because, in reality, you know people think art doesn’t make money. But art gives something that money cannot buy. And that is what I came looking for. This is what I always wanted and what I always searched for. This peace, this tranquility, this freedom, but with great responsibility. Because for you to create a work of art you have to have a clean soul, you have to be at peace with yourself so that you can pass the message to other people. Because art doesn’t need concepts. You like it or you don’t, you love it or you don’t.
J: I completely agree. And what was this process like for you to construct your Atelier? Specifically, in the neighborhood of Dois de Julho on the Street Democratas, which for me is an incredible reference for an experience that I had. Street Democratas taught me so many things. So, let’s talk about this context.
M: In reality, I first encountered Street Democratas because of my brother when he got an apartment here a few years ago, and it always attracted me because it’s a neighborhood where there are many artists, you know, many artists, we are always adding on more artists. It’s a Bohemian neighborhood. It’s a very relaxed neighborhood. It’s as if you were in your backyard. And so, I saw it for the first time. I would always pass by this free space. So, I asked the person there if she wanted to rent it to me and she said “yes,” and that’s how I installed my work. Interestingly, the only thing I had at the time was knowledge. I didn’t have any money. And I threw myself out there. I was so convinced about my work even though people didn’t take me seriously because they knew my bureaucratic side better. They didn’t know about this artistic side of me because it was an intimate thing of mine. So, when I went, when I began, the doors closed. It was really difficult to maintain, to pay rent. It was extremely difficult. But I even managed to teach. Without having a kiln. And I managed to fire my students’ pieces by the right date, always keeping a schedule. After three years, I managed to get a kiln, because I took out a loan, but it was very interesting, the first table I used as an artist, I used a door, an old borrowed door. And then I made a table. And I was bringing in students. I worked from Monday to Saturday, three shifts, just to be able to maintain that rental space, maintain things until people got to know my work, which has been expanding and expanding. Today I only teach on Saturdays because the demand is very high. I need to produce; I need to do restorations. I need to do other activities inside of my context to be able to support myself.
J: Yes, I think you are a very important inspiration for young women artists and entrepreneurs, in my case. Because I wanted to understand how your career developed: at what age? At what point in your life did you feel “Oh, I am going to dedicate myself one hundred percent because I believe in myself and because I have something to offer to this world?”
M: Look, I was always an optimist. Even if people say “no” to me, I always say “yes.” I trust myself a lot. It may seem presumptuous to some people, but I don’t care. Because people think about living on art, that art doesn’t bring in money, but I don’t worry about that within this context. “Oh, your work is like this or like that.” I have so much confidence in myself that I don’t worry about other people’s views. So, in reality, I have been developing my mind since I was a teen. I came to live here in Salvador, it was very complicated. It was very difficult, but all the challenges that came at me, I tried to solve. Because if you don’t really solve these problems that arise, you feel defeated, and I’m not a defeated person. I think sometimes, when I stop and look at my work, “Wow, how is the space I work on small, but I have work that is gigantic. It is universal.” Look, it is so universal that in 2013 there was a group of professors from a university in the U.S. from the [state of] Indiana. They had begun doing research work in 2007. In 2013, they wanted a woman, someone with my characteristics of working with saints, with orixás, and they came to me. From that process emerged a book, and from that book a Dutch filmmaker, who was so delighted by the way I dealt with religion that he was here in Salvador and made a documentary about my work.
“Salvador is a city that is a museum open to the sky .”Maristella dos Anjos
J: It is, it’s universal. It’s incredible and I always loved accompanying you as a teacher because every Saturday morning I got up and I went out. Generally, there was an event at the house on Fridays. I had to make breakfast for the guests.
M: Exactly, you’d wake up very early. Very early. And you slept very late, right. You remember that sometimes you arrived, when you were writing your book, doctor, how many times you arrived very tense. You felt suffocated because you didn’t have any space. Your privacy took a hit.
J: That’s the sacrifice that I made, but I didn’t make it alone. I did it with my partner, Jonatas Campelo. I’ll say that he woke up more mornings than me to make breakfast, but generally on Saturday, Friday, was so crazy that I was the only one who remembered to wake up on Saturday. And so, I’d go out and watch Maristella already working, preparing her atelier, that sun beating down. And so, I became inspired. I am doing the right thing. I go there to get my fruit at the Dois de Julho market, to get bread, a cassava cake, a fried banana, right, I’d leave from the same building as your atelier. And so, you inspired me a lot to continue knowing that it was possible to live through art, right? Which is the topic we are discussing today. Living through art is not just about striving for money, but it’s knowing that what you’re doing is contributing to the world and that you have something unique to offer.
M: And speaking of Jonatas Campelo, I always talked with him about how he has one of the most difficult jobs in the world, which is making people smile. He with Palhaço Capvara [circus troupe], you guys seriously, how can you make people smile in such a capitalist world, so full of pain? And he can do this. For me, that is one of the most difficult jobs in the world, being a clown, and he does it in a very beautiful and highly courageous way. You two did that project.
J: Thank you, yes, we are carrying on because it is also universal, and this whole world needs hope from the artists that proclaim: “I will not live my life providing services to only big companies,” you know. I decided what we want to do with our time and how we want to relate to other people, and we are doing that now, right?
M: This pandemic has been very interesting because, in fact, it is the first time. I never took vacations, meaning I was never not working. So, I never stayed out of the atelier. “Oh, I’ll take vacations.” Look, I never took vacations. But during the pandemic, I took them. It wasn’t a vacation, really. I took a moment for me. I get inside my art, the art of my life. It is an extremely subjective thing. And I began to talk with other people. This process of the pandemic, my gosh, how many people came to me. How many of us exchanged ideas, difficult moments, and all for what? For art. So, they came to me, they know, we who are artists live on art, we work on the soul a lot. Because at first, people were worried about food. They were worried about money, but what balances us humans is the soul. You have to be well with your soul so you can face life’s problems. That gives you balance, you see. And that brought so much to my work. I handled many people. There was even a girl from Italy who is Brazilian. She was there during the pandemic, but she was broke. She was desperate. You’d believe that I began to speak with her and today we are super friends. We talk a lot, she said where she is, she has money to pay… [going to cut this part]. Because I really believe that after this phase passes, this spiritual cleansing, this universal cleansing, everything will be much better for all of us.
J: I believe so, too. I think that many people are searching for that inside themselves, and whoever doesn’t have this practice is a little behind.
M: Exactly. That’s right, that’s right, Jamie.
J: We artists already know what to do with free time. We create new projects.
M: You don’t stop for a single moment. On the contrary, the moment of this pandemic increased the quantity of work for me because there are many projects and I am working a lot because I’m certain that when this all passes, of course nothing lasts forever, many people will want to meet us, will want to speak with us personally. You understand? I am preparing myself for that, for welcoming them with open arms, speaking more about my work, presenting my work, showing it off, you see?
J: How nice, how nice. So, there is another very strong theme in your art and also in our connection, which is the place of the sacred. I wanted to know how it is for you to work the sacred in clay with your hands, in your body in the construction of these powerful objects.
M: I always studied at a Nun’s school in my city. And in my city, it is not part of the culture to practice Candomblé, much less Umbanda. People still have a certain prejudice. When I came to live in Salvador, I was about 14 years old, and I went to an aunt’s, and she was involved in axé. And coincidentally I arrived at her house on a Thursday. I saw a session, we called it a “session”, but when the drums started to play, can you believe I was so enchanted by what it seemed like, I never had seen it before. I was there inside. My house was there, I felt like myself there. When I came to live in Salvador at about 18 years old, I then began to visit many places, meet and make friends and all. I always did that. And when I began working with art, the first thing I felt like doing was really that—working with these stronger energies, because clay is very much associated with earth and nature, they are the orixás, it is nanã. So, I began to work. Then that gets me very involved [in the spiritual realm]. Often I’m in my atelier working, I feel the smell of a cigar, the smell of certain herbs, and I know that these are the essences of the orixás. They are what move my life. Not only my own, but also the lives of the many people who I support, whether it be material support, spiritual support or psychological support. Because of the orixás, they are what strengthen me. Even in this pandemic process I began to work a lemanjá [orixá of the sea]. Then, it was the first time I ever made that image, it was a babolorixá doing a divine shell consultation. It was the occurrence of the pandemic. It was strength that I seeked. And I can be sincere. I have been going through it calmly. Calmly, without despair, without this, without that. I’m working normally, working hard. I work from Sunday to Sunday. And that has strengthened me a lot as well. My head is great. Amazing. I got rid of everything negative. I don’t watch television, negative things. I don’t need that. I need things that make my soul happy. Because I need to be okay to make others even better.
J: Yes. Art is a cure, right, for all of us too. How great. We already touched a little on this subject, but I wanted to know if you have anything to say about the challenges of being a female artisan entrepreneur and why it is so important to have a feminine vision in this sphere.
M: Look, there are many challenges. Firstly, I am at the head of a business alone. I do the whole process of my work alone. I wash, I wash the floor, I clean the bathroom, I do everything. I sit down, I do my projects, I do the accounting work. I do everything. So, from the moment that in this misogynistic universe you run into a black woman, without money, many people step over you. Mainly big businessmen so they can take something from you. “Oh, I want it, this work of yours is more or less… It’s nice.” It’s that. For what exactly? For you, for your self-esteem to crumble and for him to do whatever he wants—take a work of yours and sell it for three or four times more than you charge for it. But I’m very secure in relation to that. Even today, after the pandemic, this opened me up. In the past, there were many works of mine in a few stores that I had left as consignments. But I don’t have any need for that. We have social media here. What do I need to leave my work at some store for? If I can leave it in my own physical space, if I have, and I do have the same value on social media, then I don’t need that. I believe many people and many women are working and thinking this way, and I think the moment will come when those big businessmen will cease to exist. Because we have our own social media that helps us a lot in relation to this [issue]. Because it is work that is made between client and artist and here is an approximation, there is an affection. This very week I made a piece that I sent to Belo Horizonte. A young man came across my work and he asked for a certain image, which was the Ogum de Lei. I sent him a perfect piece of art. I have another piece to work to do, which is a caboclo [a Brazilian of mixed indigenous and European ancestry] for a lady from Rio de Janeiro. So, why would I use a third-party space to get my work seen? If I have my [own] space.
J: That’s what independence offers, right, that’s what women need: more independence, more autonomy.
J: Many women need more independence, more autonomy.
M: Exactly. And another thing, Jamie, is that people don’t need to be with a man. You don’t need security for you to say “yes” or “no.” You have to be the owner of your life. You are an individual. You are unique. The human being is unique. People need to get out of that [way of thinking]. And also, boost your self-esteem. Another factor I think is important is what I do. I really believe in my work, but I never settled. I study the bust [sculpture type]. I am always adding elements to my work, you understand? You have to be always evolving, always growing.
J: You inspire, you inspire me to do this. I think you will inspire many other women to move forward, to believe in themselves, right, to have that self-confidence.
M: We need that because we are living in a world that is more and more sexist than in the past, from our mother’s time. Because today the man doesn’t attack the woman by locking her in [the house]. He has already killed her. He doesn’t feel anymore. The woman’s strength is so great that he wants to destroy it to force her out of space anyway. So, you have to be aware. I am strong, I am unique, I can, I am talented, I am intelligent, I like to invest in my work. I have to study because that also is very important. You have to always be studying, always searching, adding on to what you already have, to what you already know.
J: Thank you for this very important message, for reinforcing it in the lives of young, young women, because I have to say this each and every day in order to continue on, to remember. And you reinforcing this is super important for us, and being a model, right, an example of a warrior woman that lives through art, which I think is the dream of many women.
M: Thank you so much also, Jamie, because in reality, art is for you to live well. You have to be balanced. Both spiritually and financially. You have to be able to live well. Because sometimes people think about wanting [things], oh I want the newest car of the year, I want this, but seriously, you just need to be, to have a house, maybe a car, you simply must work. Period. Live well. Calmly. You need your peace of spirit.
J: Simplicity goes a long way.
M: Certainly, certainly, Dr. Jamie Lee. Because in reality you realize it is dissatisfaction with yourself. You will never be one hundred percent well. Because you are always seeking materials. There is a cultural nature about it. Even filtering it through that person’s head that they’re weak, they’re this or that. They have to know they need this, and they don’t need anything else except to be well with themselves.
J: I think we’re already talking about these challenges from the pandemic, and I wanted to know because I’m not in Salvador. I left Salvador in two thousand..at the end of 2018. I returned to launch my book in 2019. I had to close the physical office of the House, which I now understand was important because before the pandemic, I didn’t know I would arrive, and it would be much more difficult to try to deal with this during this moment.
M: Yes, but your lemanjá took you out of that situation. Did you know that?
J: I agree. I think it was very important.
M: It was incredible. It was so incredible. Incredible.
J: We are seeing how to restart this project with more organization, more purpose.
M: You gained a lot of experience. So, that experience will give you guys strength to continue on. As everything is continuing, right, this exposure, this presentation in relation to the House of Sustainable Arts.
J: Yes. The idea for the podcast is to cultivate the networks that were built while working at the artistic residence in the neighborhood Dois de Julho, but we received people from all over the world, from all over Salvador, from Bahia. So, it was an exchange, a very strong cultural exchange that I as a doctoral researcher committed to make these translations, these bridges. So, I wanted to know how you see the future of Salvador’s cultural scene and the changes and how we can take action in all of it.
M: Salvador is a city that lives solely off tourism. We don’t have big businesses here; we don’t have big factories. So, it’s a city that lives off tourism and services, and it all stopped. But I believe that the bounce-back, when all of this is over, will take some time. But I believe that Salvador will be a spotlight. Because many people, because of the fact that Salvador is a coastal city. It is a city that is a museum open to the sky. Many people will want to experience Salvador. So, I believe in the near future. At this moment it is extremely complicated. It’s very difficult. There are many people begging, and you see many beggars, many children out on the street. You see that the crime rates increased by a lot. But that is a consequence of the situation that we are experiencing. I don’t believe this is happening in just Salvador, but rather it’s a general issue.
J: Yes, it is a general issue.
M: It’s a hard time indeed. I believe in a better future. I do believe.
J: We have to believe. So, Maristella, do you have any questions for me? I want to think about how we can support another from the front.
M: Yes, I thought, Dr. Jamie Lee, when all of this passes, I think that there will be many people who will feel the need to learn about this culture, this mixture, right. You lived here in Salvador, you know what it’s like, what this process is like, this cultural diversity that is so great. Because when you talk about Brazil, people associate it with soccer, capoeira, dance, but we have…
M: Yes, samba. But we have another type of culture. We have a very great diversity. So many people will want to see Salvador. So, from this moment on we can all at once partner together. And bring these people to experience ceramics, to have experiments with other kinds of art, which would be very interesting at the House of Sustainable Arts. Or, we also have the space at Ateliê Mão Terra.
J: Yes. The atelier is strong and steady in Salvador and Maristella dos Anjos: entrepreneurial artist, resilient, an inspiration for all of us. So, I am certainly committed to building those bridges to bring people from here to get to know your atelier, your work. We have a website to go along with this podcast where you’ll find biographies and exhibitions of the artists. You can contact me. I will have the translation of this interview in English as well to offer access to their work for the English-speaking world, which is a big world. It is also important to have representation on social media. So, I’m here to facilitate that. I’m very grateful. I wanted to have a little cup of coffee at your atelier, feel the clay, the kiln, to see the process of your next work because it is very, very important in my life to have you as my friend.
M: My dear friend, let me take this opportunity to thank you. And to thank the universe as well for bringing you into my world. For bringing all of you guys, you, your partner Jonatas Campelo, and I wish you all a big axé. The best, all the good that can exist in this universe, I wish it to everyone. It has been an immense pleasure.
J: Thank you. So with that, we’ll end our first episode of Brazil Culture Connections. Check out our Instagram and website. Check out also
M: The Instagram handle is AtelieMãoTerraSalvador.
J: Salvador. Don’t forget it! Salvador. Please share this episode on your social media and join me for the next one. Thank you!
M: Thank you so much, Jamie. Big hugs and kisses, and many axé.
J: See you next time.
M: See you next time.
J: This episode was recorded by Jamie Lee Andreson in Pennsylvania, USA and Maristella dos Anjos in Salvador, Brazil. We thank the technical support offered by Jonatas Borges Campelo and Maristella’s nephews, Danilo do Anjos Campelo and Isaac dos Anjos Matos, who helped with the equipment for recording. The editing was done by me. I thank the help from our team at Brazil Culture Connections: the interns from Pennsylvania State University, Amanda Talbot and Madeline Tenny. The music is called Brazilian Capoeira Dance by Akashic Records with fair use. Expect another episode next month and follow us on our social media. Thank you very much. Muito obrigada.