Messejana: A Self Study

by Charise Folnovic

Gallery Three
January 4
- January 28, 2024

Every artist and writer’s dream; devoted time and space to their craft. Somewhere without distraction, a place where undivided attention can be dedicated to the full exploration of one’s deepest cravings and creative curiosities, allowing internal thoughts to freely spill out onto the page, paper or canvas. This fall I was fortunate to be gifted this luxury, tucked away amongst the olive groves and cork oak forests in the municipality of Messejana, for an artist residency with Buinho creative hub. This picturesque village, located in the South of Portugal in the Alentejo region, famous for its olive oil and red wines, has been in existence since the 13th century. The name Messejana originates from the Arabic word ‘masjana’, translating to ‘prison’. In a village inhabited by 800 people, roughly a dozen who spoke English and a bell tower that tolled every hour and half hour, I had found myself in a self induced prison of sorts.  


After the initial shock of how isolated I was, both geographically and linguistically, I began to spend time getting lost in the tiny town, exploring the winding cobble stoned streets, admiring the calçada stones placed perfectly by hand in geometric patterns, taking in the bold colours and graphic shapes of the traditional Portuguese homes that surrounded me. A studio was provided for me, in which I took up and claimed every last bit of desk and floor space possible. It gave me a safe space to be, me. To act on ideas however literal or bizarre, some mere inklings, others having taken up headspace for years. Creative blocks ensued, there was a lot of wall staring, loads of frustration, moving through fear, pain and tears, the interruption of the ear splitting clanging bell towering above me snapping me back into my existence. I used writing as a tool, explored mediums unfamiliar to myself to try and crack into and disrupt my deep set neural pathways. There were countless walks to my happy place; a farm down the road that housed fields of baaing sheep, always good for a laugh. 


I observed my new neighbours from my studio window, becoming familiar with their routines and simple living. I gazed, moved slower, reflected and contemplated more. The sun drenched days felt like they lasted for weeks, time moving as slowly as the elderly group of women meeting at their favourite bench to watch the nightly sunset. Ideas started to flow and as they did it was hard to turn them off. Every new endeavour progressed into multiple different avenues to explore, each with their own sense of enticement. What emerged is a fraction of what you see in this room. An embraced relationship to the sun, utilizing its warm rays to capture the essence of local flora and fauna, standing as a testament to the interconnectedness between the environment and the artistic process. A dialogue between traditional and contemporary, drawing inspiration from both while blurring the boundaries between them.  


I could not have accomplished all I did without the generosity of so many. A lot of people helped me to achieve this artistic expansion for which I am indebted to them. Buinho and Messejana not only left an indelible mark on my artistic practice but allowed me to weave my experiences into the fabric of these playful explorations you see before you.

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