||Chatting to Lira Marques (Maria Lira Marques Borges) for a couple of hours is good for the heart and for the imagination. She is a fragile, sensitive, delicate woman who is extremely wise and knows her story and the story of her people in the Jequitinhonha Vale. “I was born on this street, in 1945, and this is where I grew up. I have no plans to leave. I started moulding clay after seeing my mother making nativity scenes that she used to give to the neighbours, as a gift. She never sold them. The only time she sold something it was for the Franciscan Brother Chico, a friend and a mentor and then to a German. I used to make things with beeswax that my father used to give me. He was a shoemaker and used the wax to prepares thread. My mother never fired her pieces, but to make them strong she mixed the clay with ashes or with wheat. I was curious, and decided to ask Joana Poteira, an elderly neighbour who was a potter, and who knew a lot about clay. I learned everything with her. How to dig for clay at the right time, prepare it and fire it. I even made a small kiln, and learned my art with her.” To cut a long and beautiful story short, Lira Marques discovered herself. “I started looking at books, searching for African and Native things, because they are my heritage. With Brother Chico, we started a choir and copied the songs of the native Jequitinhonha people, songs of labour, religion and festivals.” In the 1970s two bad droughts seemed to water the roots Lira Marques was searching for. “We have a hard life. By watching this suffering I made my first piece (People sprouting from the earth that supports the Southern Cross). That’s what I saw: people begging, carrying water and stones. Penitence.”
Then Lira Marques started working with masks. The African and Native features matured. She started researching the different colours of clay and now paints fabric and natural fibres to decorate the masks. And Lira Marques has also started painting with clay. Her pictures have a poetry that transcends any style. Her paints are the clay itself, her textures are the earth and stones, her drawings are lyrical and the beauty comes from her, she who is such a special and humane person.