marta albuquerque

I recall reading The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Stetson in primary school and how, through Stetson's masterful plastering of layered words, wallpaper subsequently stood as an element removed from its seemingly adornment-only purpose. Sticking, adding, peeling - snake-like - this interior design feature takes on an emotional quality.
The overwhelming, the inescapable.

Marta Albuquerque's textural and photographic interpretation is a multi-sensory experience that, equally as ingeniously, delves into themes of mortality, memory and dealing with the loss of a loved one. Exhibited in Cape Town at Orms, Alburquerque merged print installation, sound arrangements and video projection to mould a safe space in which viewers, via the curation of journeying through the embryotic phase, could connect to their own core of individual memory and contemplation.

Wallpaper is a means of catharsis, of dealing with the passing of her sister.
A lesson in remembrance, processing and the retelling of truth too often turned taboo.
Moving past the access-bound limitations of exhibition events, Wallpaper has now taken its form within a print book. Created with the same initial intention of providing a somewhat abstract place of tactility that allows for innerwork, through imagery of the works and exhibition, each book has its own unique central page. Placing vulnerability at the forefront, talking to Marta has been a delightful experience of unveiling.

Tell me more about Marta Albuquerque ... where are you from, where are you currently based? What motivates your artistic practice?

I'm from Porto, Portugal, although I’ve been hopping around for a few years and even though I have been working with film and photography it wasn’t until I moved to cape town that I embarked on this artistic journey. Prior to that I taught film in an art’s school in Porto and was the videographer for a music promotion company. While at Escola Artística Soares dos Reis I started taking an interest in photography, something about the in-between moments that no-one is paying attention to when you’re shooting a film, became a fascination - the idea that you could add a layer to a person’s memory and thus becoming a collective one.

As the urge to leave Portugal started to weigh heavy, and having been involved with roller skating for years due to roller derby, I did some volunteer work at Indigo Skate in Isithumba, Valley of Thousand Hills. Little did I know that after a visit to Cape Town I would move there a year later. I knew that I wanted to work with photography and thus enrolled in Orms. Out of that course two magical things were born: photography and Lauren Theunissen, one of my teachers, whom became my close mentor and friend. To complete the course we had to do a photobook and I chose to do a zine instead: We are all made of dust and sound waves marked the beginning of this book-printing passion.
I started working on Wallpaper, a project about memories and trauma that started before COVID and was showcased after the world opened up again. What motivated me to create it was a need to start up a conversation with my memories that went beyond my personal sphere and reached out to a wider audience. Having suppressed for so long most of my emotions and having lacked the emotional intelligence to work through it, I realised that while working on this exhibition, I was leaking out stuff that my conscious mind wasn’t aware or allowed to connect with and thus it became an amazing learning venue about myself and my unconscious behaviors.

How was the title Wallpaper born?

Wallpaper came about because of my interest in derelict places and how nature takes over, reshaping memories of those who left. When I was starting this project I kept seeing the same image, which was a derelict house that had an old wallpaper. When I came closer I saw that that the paper was scratched and you could actually see that underneath that paper was another one.
I kept revisiting this idea.
The idea of someone scratching that wallpaper and being taken to others, other memories, other lives, that otherness that becomes so personal, that link that bounds us. A redemption to nature’s power and endurance forcing us to grasp our ephemeral existence, even though fossils of our presence are left behind and therefore attest to an intangible form of immortality, through memory and invoking it. The idea that time would be printed onto that wallpaper really appealed to me.

To know that there is a side of the wall, where the sun shines and the colors turn yellow, that some parts will probably get moldy, some will be ruptured by living creatures and others will decay.
I guess that’s what I always loved about photography; that it could be a memory asset forever changing in its form, although its depiction was a slice of immortalized time.


You share that this process was a sort of uncovering of the repression of emotions from your sisters' passing.
Was the process cathartic? What revelations arose in retrospect looking back at that time?

When you go on an inner journey, it’s impossible not to be taken away by all the other memories. You shed your skin much like you tear that wallpaper; in an endless effort to move through layers to get to the core of your memory, to the deepest part of yourself. Memories are fluid, traumas on the other hand are solid, they create clusters. What happened was that I had become very good at moving on, in pushing myself forward and ignoring the signs. Unfortunately, prior to my sister's passing, I had undergone a traumatic event and had realised that I could just pull through the unthinkable.
What you fail to admit is what parts of yourself you’re giving up to manage to pull yourself up.

Wallpaper came out of that necessity: to reconnect with who I was. When you’re so deep in your work, and since I was doing this with Lauren, there are conversations that are going to happen that wouldn’t otherwise. Never had I talked so much about my sister, and as much as it hurt me, it made her feel more alive than ever. It’s a tricky thing: on the one hand you want people to ask you about your sister, about those that departed, on the other hand you avoid starting that conversation because you know people feel awkward about it. In that sense, Wallpaper was a major breakthrough.

The highlight of the exhibition was the conversations that took place. Since its conception it was quite clear that I didn’t want to show any faces. I wanted for it to be abstract to a point where everyone could connect to their own memories. It was always about triggering the emotions and not visual cues to a specific moment in time of my life. People would comment, how through gazing at the wall and with the aid of the soundscape, they got taken back to their own memories and how because of that communional space, they felt comfortable to share and introduce the departed ones to the ones present there.

It was such an emotional and important moment for me.

Looking at some of the Wallpaper works, particularly Acetateburna, their fleshiness is inviting yet somewhat terrifying. A kind of tangible call back to the womb. How did this embryonic space relate to your processing of emotions?

In order for me to access my deepest wounds, I had to traverse a group of other repressed traumas that I wasn’t sure I could deal with. Memories stack up and are inevitably transformed by the previous ones. I had so much angst and pain stored, but it wasn’t until I started to work on this exhibition that I realised how serious it was.

It takes me a really long time to process feelings. It’s always been like this. I don’t know if it's a form of protection, a shield I learned from a young age to use, but I needed years to understand what this loss had meant for me. The first stage of the exhibition (the womb) comes from a duality: on the one hand I wanted a reset, a place of protection to be able to open up, and on the other hand I was tapping into a rage that needed an outlet.

Parede Cortes almost makes one want to dig their fingers deep and pull at these layers of wallpaper. It almost feels like a tactile ASMR.
What was the technical process behind creating such work? Did you have studio experience before, or was this an entirely new experience?

To be honest I think I didn’t realise how much of the scientist was still in me. I knew that I didn’t want to print an image and stick it on the wall and the theme begged for layers. It was always very present, the idea of ripping skin, of going deep within. Cliché as it is , it wasn’t solely about the final destination, but it was definitely about getting there.
Where are memories?
Which are fluid?
Are they different from the core ones? What does it mean to revisit them ?
And how can you translate that journey to the viewers?
Having come from a film background, I had fallen out of love with cinema, because I felt it was too restraining for how I wanted to communicate. This whole experience was new to me, so I literally allowed myself to play with all kinds of materials. I even put printed photographs in a lake to see what the plankton would do to the images.

The kid that wanted to be an archaeologist was submerging again and the great thing about trying something new is that you have zero boundaries. I explored alternative bio printing, default printers, moldy compositions, and all sorts of materials that were at my disposal.

The first images I did were the embryo ones. I photographed a body inside a huge balloon and, even though I was happy with the result, I felt the need to add another layer. At this point I had concluded that I wanted the embryo memories to be portrayed as liquid, and thus painted the printed images with watercolor and scanned them, while wet, to give that fluid impression when exhibited. As for the memory wall, where the core memories were, I wanted these to be more solid, engraved as fossils and protected from time. For that reason I did the installation on location and used glue to invoke the idea of resin and its ability to freeze time and keep it safe, that was now purposefully being “open”.

The pain of losing a loved one does not consume you instantaneously.
Memory sees that their presence is still felt.
You cannot acknowledge their absence,
Not right away,
Not in a tomorrow, not in a near future,
Time becomes disruptive.
Creating new memories,
Amidst pockets of emptiness-- of absence.
Absence takes over your present memories,
The feeling of discomfort swells,
You are left with no other option but to outgrow your silence,
There is pain in confrontation.
In an impermanent world , can I achieve permanence?
Time moves forward and dresses you in memories,
Topping your skin with new layers,
Memory enables you to travel back in time -- memory has no body nor time.
Memory, like ripped wallpaper,
Reveals and conceals what is embedded in layers.

Exiting the present,
Sometimes forced to take the journey unconsciously,
Triggered by a song or a smell,
We too become past.
Visiting our gone selves
reconnecting with those we placed in memory,
In remembering we hold our past in the present.
Those we love, who live within us are permanent.

(excerpt from Wallpaper)

Could you tell me a bit more about the creation of the soundscape?
Were there specific sounds utilized that related to your own memories?

Funny enough, when I was a kid I paid very little attention to music.
I was obsessed with rocks, life outside, and paid no attention to music. And then all of a sudden, everything changed. I guess I found in music an inner channel that enabled me to make sense of the world, and became super passionate about it. Wallpaper is meant to be experienced as an immersive, personal trip and thus when designing the space it was very clear that I wanted a soundscape to go with it. I asked people to bring their own headphones so they could hear the exhibition as well as see it and touch it, making it more personal. Since I’m very sensitive to sound I struggle with concentrating because I keep focusing on everyone’s words, jumping around from story to story and not really committing to one thing. Moreover my background in film had assisted me with the tools to create this ambiance.

Sound became another character in my story and not just a soundtrack. But it couldn’t be music. Music can so often be used as emotional crutches to force a specific emotional atmosphere, that becomes too generic. I find it so incredible that most of us are triggered by the same sounds, even though my childhood was spent thousands of miles away from Cape Town, and yet, the response was similar across the audience. Tarkovsky was definitely a reference all throughout the making of the soundscape. In his films he never uses music to enable an emotion, rather he uses sound to add layers to the narrative that don’t necessarily match the action, transcending the literal meaning and making us think of the scene as a subjective one. I designed both tracks, the embryo and the wall one, using mainly foley sounds and then asked my friends, Rita Fonseca and Dale Blasé, to master the final tracks.

People were taking their time in browsing the wall composition, instead of viewing it left to right, or right to left and moving on. They stayed in it for the duration of the sound. They would go back to the same images, they would change directions, much like one remembers a memory. And as the sound changed, their connection with the images would change too. It created a beautiful symbiosis and while listening to the soundtrack and thinking of their own memories would then add their layer to my work.

Congratulations on the book! It looks remarkable. To end off, are you selling the book? And where can one purchase it? Are you also selling any prints of the works?

For now you can purchase the book by sending me a message or email, and soon it will be on my online shop as well as a few portuguese bookshops. If you’re in Cape Town, the book will be sold at The Other Records (One Park). I’m also selling prints of these works.