Maria Madeira is the artist representing Timor-Leste at the 60th International Venice Biennale. Timor-Leste’s inaugural pavilion coincides with the country’s 25th anniversary of independence. Commissioned by the Ministry of Youth, Sports, Arts and Culture, Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste and curated by Professor Natalie King OAM.


Madeira is one of Timor-Leste’s most significant contemporary visual artists working internationally, yet her practice is deeply embedded in local traditions, concerns and histories. For the Venice Biennale, Madeira presents Kiss and Don’t Tell, a new site-specific installation utilizing local materials such as tais (traditional textile), betelnut, earth and pigments. Her performative installation draws on the collective memories of her foremothers.


Responding to the Venice Biennale’s overarching theme Stranieri Ovunque—Foreigners Everywhere, curated by Adriano Pedrosa, Madeira imbues her work with her lived experience of displacement, having grown up in a refugee camp in Portugal with her mother. Kiss and Don’t Tell melds tenderness and trauma with the intimacy of a kiss. Madeira adeptly binds ancestral influences, traditional crafts with contemporary concerns for the plight of the voiceless.


During the opening days of the 60th Venice Biennale, Madeira kissed the walls with lipstick markings while singing traditional songs from her village in the Indigenous language Tetun. She sang a haunting Timorese song Ina Lou, literally meaning “Dear Mother Earth.” It is a spiritual mourning song known from the youngest generation to the oldest members of society with lyrics that refer to the cycle of birth and the journey of life and death.


An act of resistance, survival and resilience, Madeira’s cultural activism pays homage to the women of Timor-Leste and the suffering of women globally. She offers solace and a murmur of hope and healing.

Maria Madeira was born in the village of Geno in the Ermera region of Timor-Leste. The Portugese Air Force evacuated her from Timor in 1976 during the Indonesian invasion. She spent most of the following eight years in a refugee camp run by the Red Cross on the outskirts of Lisbon in Portugal and migrated with her family to Australia in August 1983.


Over the years, she obtained several academic qualifications. She graduated with a B.A. Fine Arts (Visual Arts) Degree from Curtin University, Perth in 1991. Two years later she received a Graduate Diploma of Education (Major in art) from the same university. In 1996, she obtained her second degree, a B.A. in Political Science from Murdoch University. In 2019, she completed a Doctor of Philosophy in Art from Curtin University, Australia.


Between 1996 and 2000, she worked in Western Australia as a high school art teacher, visual artist and cultural advisor for several arts and cultural organizations. Between 2000-2004, she returned to Timor-Leste to contribute to the recovery, rebuilding and redevelopment of Timor-Leste, the newest nation in Asia.

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