Mavi Veloso – from country girl to performance artist
Mavi Veloso is a performance artist who, like no other, embodies the concept of trans art. Her work is transdisciplinary: in her performances – live or on video – visual art, dance, theatre, song and spoken word come together. With her work Mavi explores relations between artist and audience, between performativity, transfeminism and gender politics, decolonization, resistance and resilience. Mavi graduated in visual arts and continued studies including a Master of Voice at the Sandberg Institute in Amsterdam. Her work has been performed and shown in both the underground scene (in São Paulo, Brussels, Berlin, Amsterdam) and in museums (VanAbbemuseum, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam).
Like Mavi, I’m from Brazil. In my early twenties I left my country for Europe, Italy, to move to the Netherlands after seven years. Following my love. Since living with him in Amsterdam, I have been actively involved in bicultural transgender emancipation in the Netherlands. In the summer of 2021, I spoke to Mavi about this in her Instagram video series TrannyCast. This conversation was a closer acquaintance with my ‘trans sister’. Our shared experiences and her views and energy touched and inspired me. Our conversation and the interview I did with her for Trans magazine form the guideline for the portrait below.
“I was born in a very small town called Pacaembu, in the state of São Paulo in the southeast of Brazil. In this region it is very warm almost all year round. When I was about three years old, we moved to the countryside in Minas Gerais, wich is in another state. My father was a farmer. My two year older brother and I helped out a lot in the fields, we played on the farms and frolicked in the mud after it had just rained.
Growing up as a trans girl in the 90s in Brazil meant a lot of different things for me. Positive, but also many negative and traumatic. Living in the countryside allowed me to connect strongly with nature: I had a lot of room to move, could climb trees and swim in rivers. At the same time, it was a place where machos, conservative ways of thinking, stereotypes and oppression prevailed.
Growing up in that time and place was confusing. I constantly felt like I was doing something wrong and learned from an early age to hide the things I enjoyed doing. Playing with dolls or the fact that the other boys wanted to do naughty things with me. Most of the time I felt like I was playing a role and was pretending, or that I was lying so as not to get caught.
Sometime in my teens I had to move to the city to continue my education. In Londrina, in the south of the country, I went to study fine art. In addition, I was always busy with theater, dance lessons, circus. It was only at the end of my studies that it actually turned out to me that it was more interesting to work multidisciplinary, merging and mixing all those forms of art. After my education I moved to São Paulo, where I lived for about three and a half years before coming to Europe. Wow, when I talk about it like that it all sounds so simple and easy!
As a young child, I approached rural life in an artistic way, even though I had no idea what that meant. I spent hours at a time at the table, drawing pictures and making up stories about female characters: little princesses, witches, mermaids… Oh my gosh, it really does sound like a cliché. But it is true that from an early age I had fun making up stories. I put on my mom’s clothes and climbed on top of the couch and pretended that was my stage. Then I danced and sang and imagined I was a superstar. The moment my mother caught me for the first time was very embarrassing. I think that’s why she stopped wearing skirts, high heels and jewelry.
The artistic in me allowed me to escape the masculine reality that was imposed on me. When I was playing under the trees behind our house, I always imagined another universe in which my femininity lived. My fantasy has given me a strong sense of aesthetics.
Becoming a woman
I’ve always been a woman in a way, but it took me a long time to realize that. I was treated like a boy, had to help my father in the fields. But then I always made sure to get my hands on some corn so I could play with it as if it were my dolls. Then I made pigtails in the hair of corn and things like that. Or I snuck into my mother’s closet for her clothes and earrings, necklaces, heels. I was punished and condemned for my feminine behavior by my family, neighbors, friends at school. I had to suppress and hide my desires.
At that time, we didn’t have as much information on the subject as the children and teenagers of today. We didn’t have internet yet. As a child I sometimes saw travestis walking in the city, I was taught to be afraid of those “monsters.” Two decades had passed before I recognized the possibilities of becoming a woman.
At first I thought I was a gay boy. When I started my university, far out of sight of my parents, I started to see the world from a completely different side. I hooked up with other boys, other guys. It was like, wow, I can do that?! Some time later in São Paulo I started experimenting with more feminine clothes and wearing high heels and nail polish, letting my hair grow out. It felt radical and like I was doing something I shouldn’t, but at the same time it also felt like I was given freedom that I had never experienced as a child or young teenager. The term non-binary didn’t exist yet, or at least it wasn’t that popular. I remember people calling me androgynous, that made me so proud! People saw that I was different and that being different was first understood in a certain way.
Everything for me came a bit later. I was already 29, although I still felt like an adolescent, when I started to experiment hormones. For years I was slowly processing the idea of femininity and masculinity and switching between the two, but in 2014 the moment suddenly came when I really couldn’t handle that way of living anymore.
THE FULL INTERVIEW WITH MAVI VELOSO IS PUBLISHED IN THE NEW PRINT ISSUE (Dutch) AND WILL BE PUBLISHED ONLINE SOON.