Amilton Neves

Madrinhas de guerra

Fortaleza de Maputo, 12 août – 30 novembre 2018, Mozambique
Commissaire d’exposition Christine Cibert


Amilton Neves is anthropologist and a professional photographer whose work examines contemporary societal issues using storytelling and documentary techniques. His past and current projects focus on addressing perceptions of individuals who find themselves at the margins of society through narratives of empowerment while preserving often forgotten aspects of our modern history. Cuna has participated in training courses at the Sooke Photography School in Canada, Nuku Studio in Ghana,and Goldsmiths University in London, and has been prominently featured several times at the Franco Moçambicano Cultural Center. His work has been exhibited in Mozambique, Ghana, Portugal, Brazil, Ethiopia and Canada. In addition to pursuing his independent projects, Amilton Neves also works as a freelance documentary photographer throughout Africa.

About the series Madrinhas de guerra

Thanks to the eyes of the photographer Amilton Neves, we are guided into a very personal and intimate journey. Set among ruined and old corrugated iron or wooden painted walls, passing through some small modest doors, we enter into dilapidated houses of several old Mozambican women. In this private space, we gain access into their life, to meet them, to acknowledge their past and to listen to an otherwise hidden episode of the history of Mozambique.

But who are exactly these women? How old are they? What are their names? What have they personally experienced?

Everything here seems so quiet, so still, so basic, so timeless. Are these women just silent or nostalgic or afraid or ashamed or angry or guilty? Or are they just shy or resigned or relieved? Do they want to laugh or to cry? What have they lost? Their past, their life, their reputation, their dignity, their lover? Will they accept to talk to us, to let out what they have been carrying and hiding deep inside themselves for so long? Will they agree to share their testimony before it’s too late, not to forget, but to remember?

Whatever all this, whatever they have done, whatever their harsh conditions of life! These old Mozambican women will always be beautiful, elegant and respectable, inspiring us compassion if as they were our mothers, our grandmothers, our aunts, that we want to take care of, to protect, to cherish, to embrace. Thanks its unique photographical documentary, Amilton Neves finally reveals us a subject that has stayed undercover and undocumented for too long.

These women are called “Madrinhas de Guerra” — “Godmothers of War.”

Christine Cibert


Christine Cibert: As a young Mozambican photographer, how did you start this new series of photographies on Madrinhas de Guerra?

Amilton Neves: I got the idea to work on this subject because of a famous speech by Samorá Machel where he says “Madrinhas de Guerra are long term explosives, we have to stop this organization in our society.” When you ask your mother or your aunt about Madrinhas de Guerra, they don’t want to talk about it. They tell you it happened, but they don’t want to share the details. That is why I deliberately wanted to document this story, often forgotten, so that is is not only remembered by the elder generation, assimilados and people from the army. This is a story that should be known by everyone and yet most people don’t know it. 

CC: Can you remind us the historical context?

AN: “Madrinhas de Guerra” or “Godmothers of War” is a project telling the story of the Mozambican women who took part in the National Women’s Movement from 1961 to 1974. These women were sponsored by the Portuguese government to provide moral support to the soldiers, fighting on the frontlines during the Mozambican War of Independence. Through letter writing campaigns to soldiers – many of whom they never actually met – the Madrinhas de Guerra played a critical role in the psychological support to the colonial armed forces. Some Madrinhas went so far as to meet and regularly visit the soldiers to whom they wrote letters, developing deep relationships, sometimes leading to promises of marriage when the young men returned at the end of the war. In exchange, for their support to soldiers during the war, many of these women were rewarded with influential positions in the society and upper classes and, some were even given houses by the Portuguese government. But in 1974, when the war of independence finished, the National Women’s Movement officially ended along with it. However, the Madrinhas de Guerra were ostracized within Mozambican society for their role in supporting the colonial forces. 

CC: Was it difficult to be in contact with Madrinhas?

AN: I began researching the Madrinhas to find archive photographs and stories and eventually, I managed to speak to a man in the army who had a Madrinha, who was still alive, based in Mafalala, where he took me to meet her. Although she has passed away now, it took me three months to convince her to let me take her portrait. This is when I became really interested in this project because of the challenge. Then, she accepted to introduce me to others and for three years, I have visited the homes of about fifty Madrinhas de Guerra who still live in Maputo today and embodied the past of the opulence experienced during the support of the Portuguese government and the subsequent marginalization felt after independence.

CC: It is a premiere in Mozambique. Have you shown the series elsewhere before?

AN: The work has been exhibited on SDN online when I was nominated Photographer of the Month (January 2018). It was also exhibited as part of the Nuku Studio component of the Addis Photo Festival (2016) and just recently, at the Nuku Photography Festival in Ghana which was just launched last September. It was reviewed at PhotoNOLA (New Orleans) in 2017. The work also won the Portfolio Review Prize at the Palm Springs Photo Festival (2018) and was shortlisted for the 2018 Contemporary African Photography Award.

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