Luiza Prado de O. Martins

A Small Archive
of Secrets and Intimacy

For the past several years, my artistic research has focused on exploring themes of reproductive justice, herbalist knowledges, and forms of intra-communal care. Holding control over who gets to have children, how, and by what means is a key strategy for maintaining colonial divisions of labour. Engaging with intimate histories of abortion has played a fundamental role in developing my understanding of the articulations between reproductive health and anti-colonial resistance. Much of my work takes place in contemporary Brazil, where abortion is not only illegal, but often perceived as a taboo topic altogether.

In the context of a nation-state built on the exploitation of labour of Black and Brown peoples, the struggle for reproductive rights clashes with intersecting forces — significantly, the political and economic interests of colonial oligarchies, and the maintenance of gender-race articulations that position white bourgeois subjects as the ruling class. Access to reproductive care is, then, consolidated along the lines of gender, sexuality, race and class — guaranteed to white bourgeois subjects to serve patriarchal interests, and denied in various degrees to those subjects whose identities fall outside of those narrow confines.

Along the way, I’m honoured to have been entrusted with the personal narratives of those who resist and struggle, every day, to uphold abortion as a human right — for themselves, and for others. These stories unfold endlessly, changing the paths of individuals, communities, families. In this piece I offer brief reflections, reverberating from three narratives shared with me by comrades in Brazil during this research process; a small archive of secrets and intimacies.


My menstruation was really late, so I had some really strong cinnamon tea with a few other herbs in it; my mother and my grandmother used this, too. My menstruation finally came soon after that; I’m pretty sure I had been pregnant before I had the tea.”

I’m chatting with T. She is telling me about her previous experiences with contraception and how, confronted with the possibility of being pregnant, she decided to turn to this popular folk remedy. Cinnamon tea is known in Brazil as something that helps one “descer a menstruação” — bringing down menstruation — and is widely used by those who want to resolve the uncertainty of a late period.

She tells me that not too long after drinking a few cups of this infusion, she felt the familiar, dull pain of cramps; these contractions, however, seemed much stronger. The subsequent bleeding was more intense than she was used to, and she expelled some unusual tissue. Her period had only been late for a few days, and her last ones had been quite regular; although she hadn’t had a pregnancy test, she was sure that this had been a very early pregnancy. Even just knowing was hard; from the moment that she confirmed a pregnancy, its termination would constitute a crime. If she didn’t know, she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

T. used this infusion because she knew that her mother and her grandmother had used similar remedies before her; in the region of Brazil where she comes from, many people make use of these preparations. A herbalist friend guided her through the process, helping her brew the mixture — which included a few other herbs, in addition to cinnamon — and stayed with her during the termination. I hear the gratitude and reverence in T.’s voice as she speaks of this friend and the care and love she extended to her, and to others in similar situations. I ask her how she felt after it was all done. She says: “It felt like she helped me get born again, as myself. She helped me give birth to myself.”

I hold T.’s secret with reverence for those who came before her; for those who helped her and others; for the communities that emerge around the need for reproductive care. An archive of care, invisible but to those who call for it through the loving whispers to the ancestors.


Sis, let’s switch to the secret chat?”

I’m chatting with S. I’m in Europe, she’s in Brazil; the subject of our conversation holds vastly different weights on opposite shores of this ocean. We know that we need to be careful. We’re already talking through an encrypted messaging app, but now we create a special chat: the messages we exchange here will self-destruct within 24 hours. We can’t risk it: getting caught planning what we’re planning can lead to prison time. The fear is the worst thing about this: this constant, nagging feeling of powerlessness that makes us feel fragile, exposed, helpless. Talking to each other helps us realise that we’re not alone. We understand that we share the same fears — but that those fears cannot take hold of us, make us helpless and powerless.

Sharing knowledge, we make each other visible; we help and sustain one another. It is through this labor that we create the new paths that can re-articulate the realities around us. Connecting us through the threads of online communication is a shared desire to reject, to destroy the restrictions that position us in roles we did not agree or consent to perform; restrictions that imprison us within a very limited scope of self-definition. Being visible to one another allows us to come together as dissenting subjects. We discuss the ways in which we can navigate restrictive spaces and legal loopholes; we plan strategies for disrupting roles assigned to us by patriarchal forces. We must move across these spaces like hurricanes, or floods, or earthquakes, she says to me; we must be forces of nature. There is no other choice. Together we push the boundaries of what we are allowed to do, and what we are not. Our dissent, our rejection to patriarchal order becomes stronger as more and more of us become visible to one another. Alone, each of us is a gust of wind. Together, we create hurricanes.

In 24 hours the words in this secret chat will persist only in our memory — but their effect will reverberate long after. These are the secrets we hold in our memories; an archive that guides our steps and our hands as we heal each other. This is an archive of breezes, winds, hurricanes; moving air, impossible to trap.


I think a neighbour helped her. It’s hard to know the details though; she didn’t like to talk about it, because she felt she had committed a great sin. But she did what she had to do.”

M. is talking about his mother, E. One of ten siblings, he tells me he is lucky to have been one of the youngest. The oldest ones had it much harder, he says, having grown up with the pangs of hunger and added responsibility of working to support the rest of the family through their most difficult years. By the time A., their youngest, came around, their mother knew she could not have another child. So when she became pregnant again, she decided to end it. She never told their father; this was between her and one of their neighbours, a rezadeira[1] and herbalist who had helped her.
[1] a woman who performs prayers and rituals to heal illnesses, physical and otherwise, within a community.
Until the end of her life, E. was deeply religious. To her, that abortion had been an affront to God; a grave sin, whose weight she carried with what felt almost like a sacred form of reverence. Decades later, when one of his brothers was taken by a serious illness, M.’s mother confessed to him that she thought it was because of her sin. Grief opened old wounds. Over fifty years after her abortion, she was still at a crossroads: grateful for having had help in a time of need, carrying the burden of her decision, living a life she changed for herself.

E.’s secret shaped her and her family; an act that offers, perhaps, an insight into the reverberating affections that are part of these archives. It is love who moved her to make a decision, and it is this same love that guides her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren through their paths.

What does it mean to hold an archive of secrets? What lies in the silences, the great gaps between whispers? How do we hold and honour these confessions, of friends and strangers alike?

The struggle for reproductive justice is a struggle for the right to determine — sharpen, conceal, blur, enhance, darken, fragment, elaborate, destroy, highlight, complicate — the contours of the self. It follows that this also implies the right to determine what narratives, what stories are shared around one’s identity and mode of being in the world. Which words are uttered, and which are not. Holding these secrets means learning a language of interstices and gaps, pauses pregnant with doubt, bifurcated paths leading to the unknown. Learning to honour an archive of secrets feels, often, like grasping at air; movement guided by feeling.

Luiza Prado De O. Martins

Luiza Prado De O. Martins is an artist, activist and researcher. Their work moves between installation and food, using performance and ritual as a way of invitation and activation for audiences. Their practice explores anticolonial strategies in relations and knowledge between food, infrastructures and technology, and questions what structures and process are needed for collective concerns of care.

Their current artistic research project, “Un/Earthings and Moon Landings” reimagines past, future, and present histories of silphium — a plant once used as an aphrodisiac, contraceptive, and cooking spice in the Roman Empire. Thought to be extinct for 2,000 years, the plant might have recently been found again.

Their body of work spans food, performance, video, text, installation, and sculpture, and has been shown at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Savvy Contemporary, Akademie Schloss Solitude, and Kampnagel, among others. Luiza is one half of the artist duo We Work in the Dark, and a founding member of the Decolonising Design collective.

︎ ︎ ︎ ︎