The 7 Women of Minho
Make the resolution to serve no longer and you will be free. I do not ask you to push the tyrant or to overthrow him, I only ask you not to support him; you will soon see how, like a monumental colossus whose base is taken away, it will fall to the ground and crumble.
Doctors advise not to touch the incurable wounds with the hand; It is, therefore, perhaps unwise for me to advise a person who has long since lost consciousness and whose illness, since they no longer feel pain, is evidently mortal. We must therefore seek to know how this stubborn desire to serve became so ingrained that the love of freedom seemed unnatural.
It is not really important to discuss whether freedom is natural, since slavery is an offence to those who suffer it and an insult to nature, which is reasonable in all that it does.
There is no doubt, then, that freedom is natural and that, by the same token, we are all born not only masters of our freedom but also with the courage to defend it.
In 2020, one of the questions from internet users that dominated the search engines was “how to hit a woman without leaving marks?”, even though, according to official statistics, there has been a slight decrease in the number of women killed in the context of conjugal relationships, as well as in the number of complaints of domestic violence. We know that in the realm of fear, complaints are silenced by hunger. As we also know that, in the context of the pandemic, it was women who sacrificed their careers the most, staying at home with their children, in a kind of scenario disguised by the legal figure of “teleworking”. We will need a few more years to quantify the regressions of decades of women’s achievements resulting from Covid-19, just as we will need twice as long to recover from the fight. The pandemic protected the established patriarchal society and we must set an example in the fight against all inequalities.
In this sense, zet gallery resumes its programme extension privileging Art with a feminine signature. It was with this sense of mission that we accepted the challenge from Póvoa do Lanhoso Municipality to think together about ways in which contemporary artistic production can revisit memory and history, renewing its messages and uniting times and spaces in the now, when it is urgent to act.
In “The 7 Women of Minho”, an exhibition that evokes the 175 years of the Revolution of Maria Fonte and that takes place in its Interpretation Centre, seven artists of different artistic and technological backgrounds come together, with individual ways of feeling and that unveil, in the result of their creative processes, the place of the inner storm that is so often the driving force of the whole world. The combination of painting, of a figurative and self-representative tendency, by Cristina Troufa (PT, 1974); the dancing gesture on the canvas by Helena de Medeiros (PT, 1954); the poetic and detailed photography of Lauren Maganete (PT, 1970); the positive-negative images of Tânia Dinis(PT, 1983); the embroidered notes and messages by Alexandra de Pinho (PT, 1976); the protest and material sculpture by Ana Almeida Pinto (PT, 1984) and the provocative installation by Patrícia Oliveira (PT, 1983), reveal ways of seeing and feeling what it is to be a woman and to want to have a voice without silencing internal screams, shrill laughter and emotional fatalisms. Maria da Fonte is the symbol of this boldness used as protest, as fight and it is from her profile that we conduct the exhibit design of the narrative and challenge the viewer to Freedom and the permanent refusal of servitude.
In the spring of 1846, exactly 175 years ago, a group of women, seven as José Afonso sings, came from the village of Santo André dos Frades, in Póvoa do Lanhoso, armed with sickles and traditional Minho scythes, to rebel against the new “Health Law”, an initiative by António Bernardo da Costa Cabral (1803-1889), one of the leaders of the constitutionalist movement that had led the country since 1842. The “Health Law”, which forbade burials in churches and encouraged burials in cemeteries, although we know today that it was an essential measure for public health and to stop the spread of epidemics, did not meet with understanding among a people with strong Catholic traditions. But, more than causing incomprehension, it was the trigger for widespread discontent, namely among the peasant communities with the so-called Cabralismo.
The movement, which became known as the Revolution of Maria da Fonte or the Minho Revolt, is not consensual in historiography although more recent research indicates that Joana Maria Esteves, Joaquina Carneira, Josefa Caetana, Maria Angelina, Maria Custódia Milagreta, Maria da Fonte do Vido, Maria da Mota, Maria Luiza Balaio, Maria Vidas, all may have been Maria da Fonte, in a popular mutiny led by many women and not just one. The death of Custódia Teresa, an inhabitant of Simães, parish of Fontarcada, would have been the last straw for the people who had long been indignant with the Costa Cabral reforms, Minister of D. Maria II (1819-1853).
The popular rebellion by women is of special interest, whether led by one or many because, in a time of archaic traditions, women dared to have a voice and express a political and civic position on a matter of general interest, beyond the household privileges to which they were barred. Following the rebellion, and given the facts, the authorities decided to arrest the ringleaders of the revolt, who tried to exhume Custódia’s corpse to restore the law. Four women were arrested, which caused the revolt to grow, leading hundreds of women with sickles, whips and sticks to chase away the representatives of Justice and run the gravediggers to the ground with stones. Enthused by the sudden power, they got together and decided to release their companions when they were heard by the judge.
So, after the assault on the jail, the rebels were euphoric and, in Largo da Fonte, Maria Luiza Balaio invited them for a drink in her tavern and inn, as was usual, and, imbued with the spirit of Bacchus, they gave enormous cheers for Maria da Fonte, giving rise to the legend.
However, the regime was already hated, as the government lived off the taxes collected from the people while granting monopolies or making contracts with big business in exchange for loans. Large companies emerged, such as the tobacco and soap companies, often fronts for speculative businesses.
In April 1845, the “distribution tax” aggravated the unease of the workers, and the following year there was the popular revolt of the women of Minho. The Revolution of Maria Fonte was thus the motto for Patuleia, the little civil war, a generalised rebellion against the dictatorship and the economic exploitation of Costa Cabral, who was sacked by the queen and had to go into exile in Spain. The rebels burned notaries’ offices to make the tax records disappear, “as papeletas da ladroeira” (the tax slips), and for eight months (from October 1846 to June 1847) people and soldiers, Chartists and Septembrists, died in clashes with the troops.
The victory, however, was for the Chartists, supporters of the legacy of Pedro IV (1798-1834), and in opposition to Miguel (1801-1866), and the Political Constitution of the Portuguese Monarchy of 1822. After the victory they formed, in 1851, the Regenerator Party, which asserted itself until the advent of the Republic in Portugal as the great right-wing conservative party of the Constitutional Monarchy. After the Patuleia little civil war, which only ended with the intervention of the British and French, Costa Cabral would be reappointed.
José Afonso (1929-1987), in the 1979 album “Fura”, tells the story of the seven women of Minho and Maria da Fonte, as a symbol of Minho and female resistance, since ever, to injustices and oppression. We have appropriated his tale to name an exhibition that also fits in the partnership and proximity work that zet gallery has been carrying out with the municipalities, and in particular the Minho municipalities, in issues related to contemporary artistic practices and their programming strategies.
“The 7 Women of Minho” integrates, then, works by Ana Almeida Pinto, Alexandra de Pinho, Cristina Troufa, Helena de Medeiros, Lauren Maganete, Patrícia Oliveira and Tânia Dinis, artists of different tendencies and expressions, with works that explore technologies of sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and video and materials that range from stone to textiles, passing through paper and the expanded exploration of the audio-visual.
The selection of artists sought to be evocative of transversal concepts, even if subjectively, as a woman, voice and revolution, in a plural and avant-garde epic capable of covering the memory of resistance, led by Maria da Fonte, with a new motto for the fight, revisiting the focus on a problem that belongs to everyone, because we all must shout the revolution and the desire for a better, fairer, more equal world, that does not differentiate gender, race, geography, religion or social and/or family history.
The diversity of authorial proposals also intends to position artistic creation in the feminine in tangential and multidisciplinary territories, in which thought and action interact, mediated by intrapersonal and distinctive emotional frameworks. Each woman is an artist and each artist a citizen who intervenes in the world through her practice, pedagogy and/or demagogy of her viscerality and gaze.
Finally, the exhibition will be open from June 7th to September 30th, 2021 and it is also an approximation of Póvoa do Lanhoso to the contemporary and new, taking the semiotics of Maria da Fonte as someone ahead of her time, advocating yearnings for a better future.
Helena Mendes Pereira
 LA BOÉTIE – Discourse on voluntary servitude. Lisbon: Antígona, 2020 (4th edition). Pages 26 to 28.