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June 3 , Saturday

HOURS: 10h00 to 23h00
DURATION: Until July 31st
LOCATION: The Hood's Cultural Space, at UBBO's Praça Central.

"Being rebellious nowadays also means taking time to listen to those who comforted us," defends Melanie Alves, the author of this project and the movement 'colo como ativismo' (hug as activism). The Hood hosts Vozes da avó — stories painted with fabrics and threads — until the end of July.

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Lider Magazine


During the month of Grandparents' Day (July 26th, Wednesday), The Hood cultural space pays homage to the guardians of Portuguese families — as symbols of resilience and affection — with a multisensory and counter-current installation by Portuguese-American visual artist Melanie Alves.

Vozes da avó (Voices of the Grandmother) simultaneously serves as a love letter and a manifesto in the fight for the valorization of senior female community, as it stems from the need for the author to mourn her last matriarch — whom she intended to interview in order to know her better — and to raise the flag of 'colo como ativismo' (hug as activism).

"This work is an ode, a hymn to the elderly, as it aims to show that being old is cool and fresh, and synonymous with experience and wisdom, rather than just incapacity. Nowadays, being rebellious also means having time to listen to and care for those who comforted, protected, and showed us love," defends the author.

And because grandparents are a shelter, the installation takes the form of a home. Through the slightly open window, eight unknown matriarchs — representing grandmothers from all over the country, although they are from Amadora — appear in fabric and thread portraits that characterize them, hoping that their memories will be revisited unhurriedly.

Inside this eight-meter-high home, the stories of these grandmothers echo — from childhood to the present. The narratives are told through objects donated by the grandmothers themselves and leftover fabrics offered by national factories, all sewn together using various stitching techniques (such as quilting).

According to Melanie, "This work is a poetic visual and tactile experience that allows visitors, through personal fragments and the daily lives of others — lace, music boxes, underwear, children's galoshes (...) — to be surprised, revive memories, and explore other paths as if they were their own."

"In the end, this place is a sort of giant album of personal memories that we can all peek into and 'flip through,' where we all end up finding ourselves in some way, as our stories, unlike our bodies, move without restrictions through time and space," she summarizes.

In addition to being a revolt against a society that treats the elderly as disposable Kodaks, this installation also addresses another issue that the artist is determined to help alleviate in all her work: waste, particularly in the textile sector, which greatly harms the environment.

The author's message is unequivocal: "Neither grandparents nor products are meant to be wasted. Therefore, in this case, 95% of the materials result from my continuous upcycling efforts — creative reuse of pieces — and in the end, they will be repurposed for other works, as mandated by the circular economy."

Vozes da avó, whose production took about six months and includes interviews, photographs, and videos, is a documentary about seven grandmothers, to which Melanie Alves added what remained of her matriarch — memories —, stitching all these materials together into a patchwork quilt of collective emotions.


1. Key message of the space

The installation takes the form of a house, a fortress, a stronghold, or even the Great Wall of China. And isn't the grandmother's house exactly that? A castle of dreams and a protective shelter that shields us from everything and everyone? This work does not represent just one grandmother's house, but rather the plural and collective concept of it. It symbolizes, through eight real cases — seven grandmothers from Amadora plus the artist's grandmother who passed away during the pandemic — all grandmothers in Portugal. That's because the grandmother's house is that magical place we always want to return to, as coming back to this space is, in a way, returning to our childhood and the eternal happiness of those moments.

2. Spatial narrative structure

2.1. Portal: Because in a womb-house there is life, it is in the portal that the heart of this project beats. At the window, the eight grandmothers — with their faces made of fabrics that characterize them — introduce themselves and welcome visitors. In this part, the focus is on portraiture, which is Melanie's preferred method of storytelling through the lines on people's faces. Inside this womb-home, intimacy is felt through the presence of swaying underwear, as if it had just been hung to dry. Windows: Opening and closing, they symbolize arrival and departure, beginning and ending, happiness and sadness, and the comfort of the predictable disturbed by the spontaneity of the unexpected. Isn't life itself a window?

2.2. Two vertical altars: This portal is supported by two vertical side structures, which serve as altars of real memories. The left altar — more introverted and philosophical — is marked by neutral and soothing tones, representing comfort and thereturn to origins in two distinct situations. In the first case, the artist's grandmother is evoked through items she left as a legacy. Suspended from the ceiling is a "lamp" made of four white lace quilts, within which two globes that once illuminated the old living room now symbolize the light that the grandmother emanated. In the second moment, on a wall covered with fabrics in raw tones, the outline of a figure made of lace and crochet suggests the eternal return: from the cycle of the reproductive womb to the caring embrace.

In the right altar — more extroverted and worldly — and also in two different moments, the colors of childhood, which grandparents help to paint, come to life. In the first case, a structure made of multicolored wool strips hangs from the ceiling, resembling a circus tent, within which a pair of children's galoshes dangle from when one of the grandmothers was little. Is this an invitation to play childhood games? On the wall, fabrics of a thousand hues, designs, and textures overlap in layers, symbolizing clothes, towels, rugs, quilts, sofas, and everything that surrounds and adorns grandparents' daily lives. Amidst this everyday scene, visitors can wind up music boxes while simultaneously reading suggestive messages embroidered on fabric envelopes, such as: "home sweet home," "I dreamt of you, love," and "the fish dies by its mouth."

The three pillars of the artistic process

1. Matriarch(s): When Melanie returned to Portugal in 2019, one of her goals was to spend more time with her last living grandmother, get to know her better, conduct an interview with her, and record the conversation on video as a kind of "family memory." However, Maria José passed away at the beginning of the pandemic, and the artist, unable to "give her a voice," felt the need to immortalize her story through an artistic work. Considering that seniors were the ones who suffered the most from COVID-19 — both in terms of deaths and loneliness — and also the ones most stigmatized for being associated with incapacity, Melanie decided to include other voices in her installation. Initially, the idea was to travel across the country and collect testimonies from grandmothers in Portugal. But quickly, she focused the process on seven grandmothers from Amadora who, due to their diversity in age, ethnicity, race, origin, and profession, end up representing grandmothers from all over the country. Moreover, they reveal that Amadora — a city that, like old age, is also neglected — has not just one, but many stories to tell. Vozes da avó aims to show that being older is cool, and that younger generations should learn to listen to their grandparents, as they are synonymous with experience and wisdom, rather than just illness and limitations. "Hug as activism" and the "rebellion of caring" are thus two key concepts of this installation.

Grandma Conceição: Two of her great loves are depicted on her face: her cat hanging from her glasses and a jumpsuit in her hair, representing her grandson Gabriel.

Grandma Adelaide: Her pink lips are crocheted pieces made and donated by herself, and her face embodies rich colors and textures, characteristic of someone who lives with a very positive attitude, even after the loss of her great love.

Grandma Fátima: Flowers are planted on her face, and her lips are made of burlap. All of this symbolizes a challenging childhood working in the fields in Africa.

Grandma Maria de Lurdes: She has the most modernized face of all, as she is the youngest grandmother. The dark tones reflect the multiple sadness she has experienced throughout her life.

Grandma Odete: Bluish and pale green colors speak of a difficult marriage, while burnt yellow tones attempt to break away from that past.

Grandma Tomásia: Lashes and eyebrows made of lace with blue accents, reflecting the sweetness and serenity conveyed by her gaze and presence.

Grandma Zita: A face made of African patterns and a closed mouth made of delicate embroidered fabric, addressing the inability of the grandmother to speak about her painful history.

Grandma Maria José (artist's grandmother): Her face is the only one made from a youthful photograph. All the fabrics used express the beginning of adulthood and dreams yet to be fulfilled.

2. Painting with fabrics, needles, and threads: Melanie celebrates the legacy of her grandmothers through the act of sewing, as her grandmother Idalina used to make her own clothes, and her grandmother Maria José sewed the wardrobe for the dolls she played with as a child. Considering that most of Maria José's belongings were disposed of by family members, the author literally clung to what remained: some quilts, a music box, a sewing machine, and lamp balls. From the other grandmothers, she received personal items and leftovers of fabrics donated by Portuguese factories. Through the process of cutting and sewing, she constructed poetic dialogues and a treatise on the memories of family matriarchs.

3. Sustainability: The textile industry is one of the most polluting industries globally. To put it into perspective, it is estimated that 2,000 pieces of clothing are discarded every second worldwide, and producing a T-shirt requires about 2,700 liters of water, equivalent to the amount needed to hydrate a person for 2.5 years. As in all her projects, Melanie promotes upcycling — the creative reuse of products — in Vozes da avó. In this case, 95% of the materials used are sourced from donations, both from the interviewed grandmothers and from companies in the sector, such as Burel Factory (Manteigas), i9tex (Famalicão), DC Factory (Amadora), and Casa das Napas (Setúbal).

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