A Record of Existing

Anna Maria Maiolino’s poetry and photography in dialogue

Anna Maria Maiolino, High Tension, 1976. Digital print © Anna Maria Maiolino. Photo: Max Nauenberg

  • 12 April 2024
  • Issue 10

For more than six decades, the Italian-born Brazilian artist Anna Maria Maiolino has drawn from her experience as a migrant and a mother to produce a highly personal and politically charged body of work. Maiolino’s formative migration from post-war Southern Italy to a politically unstable South America, as well as her linguistic passage from Italian to Spanish to Portuguese, has engendered an enduring fascination with questions of identity.

Poetry is central to Maiolino’s work, which flows freely across media and disciplines including sculpture, drawing, painting, photography and video. During the 1970s, she began to keep a sketchbook of drawings, notes, poems and other writings that she later described as “a record of existing.” In the following pages, Ursula presents five of her poems, dating from 1976 to 2017, translated into English for the first time. Maiolino—recently named a recipient of the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 60th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia—has chosen to pair this group of poems with a selection of historic and recent photographs from her personal collection.


Sunday afternoon
daylight love
in the afternoon

[Rio de Janeiro, January 1976]

Anna Maria Maiolino, Untitled, 1981. Digital print © Anna Maria Maiolino

Film still of Anna Maria Maiolino from José de Anchieta Costa, Stop, 1975 © José de Anchieta Costa


the house no longer exists
darkness covers the remains of the city
the light hid itself long ago
and death hastened on its own
bodies of the children of unknown parents float in
the river’s waters
there are hundreds of bundles
one child’s shoe is left behind
another there, in the annihilated surroundings
the bombs fall
fall relentlessly
I must speed up my steps
the way is impassable
my feet bleed
making it difficult for me to stand
I sit on the sidewalk
I could not find my children
I screamed for them among the rubble
I screamed
I screamed
I screamed without getting an answer
I sob softly

[Rio de Janeiro, January 1999]

Anna Maria Maiolino, Untitled, 2016. Digital print © Anna Maria Maiolino

One Time (Once)

we are going
to nowhere
the right way was lost where is the right way?
where are you?
it’s dark, give me your hand
I’m alone
the right way was lost
where is he?
he passed by here
someone passed by
no one passed by
a hundred thousand passed
by here?


who is it?
I don’t know
it’s him
the shepherd

baa, baa, baa

I think with my eyes and ears
I think with my hands, my feet, my nose and mouth
and you?
I don’t know
I look to the right and left of the road
never behind
when I don’t want something, I don’t look back
that’s the way I am
that’s the way I am
for now I sleep and dream
true dreams
while I’m going there
toward the horizon
do I enter the first?
enter the fifth
not the first one
nor the second one
not even the third one
or the fourth
I said: take the fifth

that’s all I can tell you, friend
don’t go into the flowery garden
do not go there
you know?
those who love never know what they love
and do you know?
what an exaggeration to want to know the mystery of things
I have no idea what a mystery is
I close my eyes to the sun so I can see nothing
I see nothing
is it?
it is!
you shouldn’t talk to yourself like that
I wander
or move about aimlessly
I can’t open my eyes
wake up!
wake up!
I can’t, I can’t
I can’t
better this way, much better
I am trying
now everything hurts
but you persist in hope
you wear those jeans and the yellow shirt
in front of the mirror you fix your hair
and wait
what time is it?
it’s midnight and she hasn’t come
return I won’t return
why not?

I hear bells and drums love is here,
to forget you
I leave and won’t come back
the rain falls
where’s the water?
I feel so blessed!
plunged into this vast ecstasy,
inside my own body
inside my own body

[São Paulo, 2009]

This text is recited in the video Um tempo (Uma vez)
[A time (Once)], produced by Maiolino in 2012.

Untitled, 2016; From the making of the performance Al di là di, presented at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy. Performer: Gaya Rachel. Photo: Lívia Gonzaga

Anna Maria Maiolino, 4100, 1997/2014. Digital print © Anna Maria Maiolino

Film still from Anna Maria Maiolino’s Look That, New York! New York, 1982/2008 © Anna Maria Maiolino


I call at your door,
you are not there.
the windows are open,
but you are not there

I want to tell you that
our city
does not exist anymore,
it was bombed,
it was destroyed

I want to cry with you,
but you
you are not there

[São Paulo, 2016/17]

Anna Maria Maiolino, Untitled, 1981. Digital print © Anna Maria Maiolino


an unidentified object is about to fall from the sky, they say
as many things are said
another is that perfection does not exist
legacy of our parents, who lost paradise forever
still, I say that
a loving heart will find beauty even in imperfection.

[Rio de Janeiro, February 1990]

Poems translated by Clifford Landers.

Anna Maria Maiolino is one of the most important artists working in Brazil today. Across a wide range of disciplines and mediums, Maiolino relentlessly explores notions of subjectivity and self. Her deeply formative migration from postwar southern Italy to a politically unstable South America, as well as her linguistic passage from Italian to Portuguese, engendered an enduring fascination with identity.