Mellorado: Identity, Heritage and Transmission

Mellorado: identity, heritage and transmission

Paula do Prado

MFA (Research), under examination 2012

Supervised by Liz Williamson

Inspired by the personal and family archive, this body of work explores the intersection between family narratives, cultural identity and historical events. Mellorado is a continuation of my interest in investigating my Afro-Uruguayan heritage as part insider and part outsider; as an assimilated migrant living in contemporary Australian society. Mellorado (originating from the Latin meliorate) means to improve. Mellorado is an autobiographical narrative that critically engages with personal memories and cultural histories to challenge, disrupt and offer alternative interpretations of cultural, social and historical narratives. The research attempts to translate my ancestral investigations and experience of migration into an exploratory visual language, simultaneously questioning and reaffirming a sense of identity and belonging.


Mellorado explores the interconnections between family, identity, culture and heritage, the impact of migration and travel; and cultural transmission. An exploration of my personal and family history, supported by two substantial periods of field study in Montevideo, Uruguay, provided the starting points for this research. The research represents my continuing interest in the experience (and inherent politics) of hybrid identity by engaging with my mixed African, Uruguayan and European ancestry. The basis for the ideas explored in this paper and accompanying new body of work draws on links made between family narratives and significant cultural and historical events such as the Uruguayan civic-military dictatorship (1973-1985), the Atlantic Slave Trade and the Australian and Uruguayan Bicentenaries 1788-1988 and 1811-2011 respectively.

Adopting the standpoint of both researcher and subject, I investigate the role of the personal archive and the autobiographical within contemporary art practice. I’ve contextualised my own work alongside other contemporary artists (who also integrate biographical references within their work) as a way to explore the complexities of identity and culture. The work of contemporary artists in relation to the archive are examined as well as works specifically by Latin American artists, specifically Cecilia Vicuña, Eugenio Dittborn and Maria Magdalena Campos-Pons. Common to the artists examined is the concept of continually re-working or rehearsing the connections between personal and cultural memories. The process of rehearsal brings the traditional into the contemporary and functions not so much as a challenge to the past, but to the present and/or a possible future.

Post-colonial theoretical perspectives on displacement and diaspora are explored in relation to the use of autobiographical references and ancestral histories. This serves to draw out the political undercurrents (deliberate or not) in work that both highlights the complexity of cultural identity and gives voice to marginal narratives. By its very nature, the creation and dissemination of art is a form of cultural transmission, a product of the specific conditions under which it is made. Mellorado translates my ancestral investigations and experience of migration into an exploratory visual language, simultaneously questioning and reaffirming a sense of belonging.

Paula do Prado

Paula do Prado, Veinte Negros (Twenty Blacks) (2011). Acrylic, appliqué, Posca pen and found objects on green stripe Ikea fabric; 110 x 190 cm. Photograph: Andy Stevens, courtesy of the artist and Gallerysmith