Flowers for Pietá

Flowers for Pietá

Performance by Raphael Andrade
Text by Cláudia Gomes and Danielle Cascaes

In the year 2016, on a Wednesday afternoon, there is a painting in the courtyard Escola de Teatro e Dança of the Universidade Federal do Pará – ETDUFPA. There are two chairs facing each other. One is the image of a static saint dressed in white with a transparent fabric, almost naked, undaunted, translucent skin and fixed and sad eyes. On the other, there is a sign where you can read: “sit down and listen to me” – it is the call for the audience to participate in the performance, from Raphael Andrade, Flowers for Pietá [Flores para Pietá].

Photo: Denis Bezerra (2016)

A devout male body dressed as the mother of Jesus, one of the symbols of the Catholic Church triad – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. A body that is both Mother and Son, a body that welcomed and donated, just as Mary did with Jesus. A man who is devoted to the one he is personifying, and that devotion is noticeable to the outside gaze.

The notion of devout body “… refers to a way of being: dedicated, sacrificed and moved. This way of being is built by several paths, inducers and strategies established by the creators of the scene and covered by the actors / performers.” (JANSEN, 2004, p.10).

At first, the performance was presented at two “fixed”, “controlled”, institutional places: the School of Dance and Theater of the Federal University of Pará – ETDUFPA -, in Brazil, as the final exercise of the Performance’s discipline. Under responsibility of Professor Karine Jansen and then at the University of Paris 8 Vincennes-Saint-Dennis, in France, as part of an interinstitutional project, supervised by Professor Cláudia Gomes. Flores para Pietá was also performed in sacred / catholic places: Sanctuary of Fátima (Portugal), Vatican, Rome (Italy) and Cathedral of the See in São Paulo (Brazil).

During the performance, there is no protection or control in the relationship between audience and performer. Thus, during performative action a world of possibilities and contingencies is instituted. The performer mentions that in certain places he felt more comfortable than in others. The most welcoming places were the campuses of the Universities, ETDUFPA and Paris 8, as well as the Sanctuary of Fátima, in Portugal. The relationship between performance and space may vary, depending on the audience, and / or the place where the performance will take place.

The performance establishes a different relationship with the spaces that uses. The space can be built according to the requirements established by the performances; can be appropriated by it, which adapts and improves its development to space; one can transform the space and make it an integral part of a performance. (SCHECHNER apud JANSEN, 2004, p. 25)

The performer presents four objects: the plaque, the flowers, the shroud and the sacred heart. These objects have special values ​​assigned, that is, they receive in performance a different meaning from everyday life (SCHECHNER, 2006).

On the sign, there is the invitation and the rule for the audience / participant to sit and listen with direct contact, leaving both the performer and the participants vulnerable. In the interaction with the audience, pre-established signals by the performer are transformed, as it happened the second time the performance was presented during the IX Theater Research Seminar at ETDUFPA when the artist and performer Carlos Santa Cruz silently undressed and lay down on Raphael Andrade’s lap (see image). Symbolically the image starts to depict Jesus (boy, man) BLACK, unjustly killed in the arms of Mother. We see that especially the participants who sometimes also become performers can (re)create actions.

Photo: Raphael Andrade – Self-archiving (2019)

The flowers symbolically represent the present the retribution, the eternal and the ephemeral, the encounter and the farewell, the beginning and the end… the sublimation of the pain or even the anger, despair, rancidity, disgust. The flowers are on the shroud bringing “the memory of the dead Nazarene, but they go further to symbolize those who died for some ideal, for being subversives…” (ANDRADE, 2019). Symbolically, it also refers to the performer’s “death drives”, as Raphael is both mother and son. He finds himself dead in his own arms.

The performer reports he noticed some reactions from viewers at the Catedral da Sé, in São Paulo. When the spectators realized that it was a male body under the sacred garments of the mother of Jesus, they began to look with anger at what they had previously been looking at with affection. We conclude that these people could consider it an offense the mother of Jesus be performed by a transvestite man, considering that Brazil is the country that kills the most transvestites and transsexuals in the world. Raphael remained firm and apparently not disturbed.

A “restored behavior”, in Schechner’s view (2006, p.08) “is ‘out there’, apart from ‘me’. To put it in words, the restored behavior ‘am I behaving like I am someone else’, or ‘as I was told to’, or ‘as I learned’. ’’

The sacred heart symbolically represents the pain exposed without mercy. Maria carries him off his chest representing a “request” for forgiveness to the son scourged and killed for insurgent against the dogmas of the current power; the heart represents hearts crossed by suffering, coercion, abandonment, violence. It is the mother’s GRIVING, of many mothers… today and for 2020 years.

For example, one of the participants, an Arab student of Paris 8 sits down, cries, takes his rosary and says a prayer. In his interview, he reports: “I am in pain, my country is at war, there are many dead, and I cannot go back … it was a moment with my God. My heart is racing, I can’t stand up…” this student and other refugees who participated in the performance could also represent the sacred heart.

This moment took place at the Paris 8 university, a unique space as the place looks like a living, pulsating, cosmopolitan “small planet Earth”, with diverse ethnic/cultural backgrounds. It is the non-place and all becoming (DELEUZE and GUATTARI, 2012). Raphael’s performance was observed by approximately 200 people and had 22 participants, and their reactions range from commotion, emotion, faith, revolt, anger, mourning to prayer and contemplation.

Photo: Cláudia Gomes (2019)

Regarding the non-acceptance of a male body dressed as a saint, it is worth mentioning the group of young people’s reaction who became uncomfortable and showed disgust and anger; one of the young people spared no insults to the performer as an observer and as a participant. There was no negotiation: the unacceptability was explicit. The incontingency of what can happen in a performance is one of the things that most affects us (DELEUZE and GUATARI, 2012).

The performer performs a liminoid ritual, when the change is “… temporary (emphasis added) – nothing more than a brief spontaneous communitas experience or a performance lasting several hours in a single role”. Schechner takes up the approach developed by the British Victor Turner (Schechner, 2012, p. 70), to differentiate the liminal state, when changes aim to be permanent, from the liminoid state, which brings temporary changes.

In the “sacred” places, Sanctuary of Fátima (Portugal), Vatican City, Rome (Italy) and Catedral da Sé in São Paulo (Brazil), Andrade (2020) reports that Fátima was the place where he felt the safest and most comfortable, while others were afraid because of homophobia. It has always crossed his mind to suffer physical violence, such as stoning.

Chairs and plaque were not used in sacred places. Raphael decided to put on his white robes and his pale, watery makeup, with the sacred heart on his chest, the shroud that represents the body of Jesus Christ, and on top of it, the flowers. Therefore, the performer decided to walk through the Sanctuary of Fátima. Observers/participants mistook him for a street artist and put money on the shroud. Why had they put money on the body of Christ? Does money (DE) value the performer’s devout body?

At the Vatican, the performer followed the same ritual performed in Fatima, but, after five minutes, was coerced to leave by five police vehicles. On the way out, he walked and sang “Lord, have mercy on me”, taking firm steps to the outskirts of Rome. What can a body within a sacred place?

In March 2020, Raphael Andrade traveled from Belém to São Paulo to present Flores para Pietá, at the Cathedral of the See. The performer was again “invited” to withdraw in a repressive and coactive way by a security guard. Three months later the photographic record of this performance is published in the Vogue of Milan (Italy), Flore per Pietá (see image), captured by the look of the actress Ester Leray, who recurrently plays Maria in the Capuchin Passion of Christ. She is the “shield” woman of the performer, who is with him on his “pilgrimage” everywhere. Esther / Maria / Devotee / Pilgrim / Mother / Shield.

The performance Flores for Pietá is transgressive and liable to be transgressed, even though is delicate, silent and subtle.  During the presentations he leveraged several themes from the participants (racism, homosexuality, repression, sacredness, devotion…), but above all, the DEATH theme is recurrent both for the performer and for the public.  Symbolically it carries the suffering of mothers and children of all places and times.

Photo: Ester Leray (2020)


DELEUZE, Gilles; GUATARRI, Félix. Mil platôs: capitalismo e esquizofrenia. Vol. 3, 2 ª. ed. Rio de Janeiro: ed. 34, 2012.

JANSEN, Karine. Belém Apaixonada: a construção do corpo devoto nos processos performáticos das Paixões de Cristo em Belém do Pará. 2004. Dissertação (Mestrado em Artes Cênicas) – Programa de Pós-Graduação em Artes Cênicas, UFBA, 2004.

SCHECHNER, Richard. Public domain: Essays on the theatre. Indianópolis: Bobs-Merrill, 1968

TURNER, Victor. Liminal ao Liminoide: em brincadeira, fluxo e ritual. Um ensaio de simbologia comparativa1. Mediações, Londrina, v. 17 n. 2, p. 214-257, Jul./Dez. 2012


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