The art of research

Márcia De Castro Borges studies anthropology through her creative lens.


Vineyard resident Márcia De Castro Borges, who lived in Brazil until 2019, is a visual anthropologist, educator, and writer who investigates the relationships between image, history, memory, and identity. Borges focuses and reflects on issues of gender, migration, and Brazilian culture. A visual anthropologist, she uses images to represent, describe, analyze, communicate, and interpret human behavior. “I have always been interested in how people in certain conditions, places, and times relate to their community, or their environment,” Borges says. 

“But when I was doing a major in history, I knew I wasn’t an orthodox historian who does things through writing. I love being in the archives, and am good at it. But I like to do things more visually. In Brazil in the 1990s, they were just starting to think about visual anthropology. I was always approaching science as a historian, educator, and anthropologist with images.”

When approaching a project, Borges first undertakes background research. She observes, interviews, and photographs her subjects to convey the ethnographic information visually, as an anthropologist would do through writing.

Borges’ photographs are rich with information: “They are a mix of my view as an artist and researcher.” Behind the lens she sometimes comes at her subjects from an artistic perspective, taking composition into consideration. In other instances, her focus is on getting the shot that reflects information about her research subject, in order to show what her subjects have said.

Borges showed one of her projects at a recent exhibition at the Chilmark library. Her photographs lined the wall of “The Farinhada,” illustrating step-by-step a specialized communal production of cassava flour — a Brazilian artisanal activity that can still be found in the small fishing village of Praia do Rosa. The families in the area join collectively to continue a traditional activity of planting and manufacturing techniques passed from generation to generation.

The unique process she documents becomes an encounter between indigenous and Portuguese cultures, one that results in a silkier flour: “I think it’s very interesting, because it shows that almost 300 years ago, they could develop a technique that continues today.”

Reflecting on the research and its larger, community meaning, Borges continues, “It’s possible to keep your identity. You can think that they are simple, but the kids grew up and became professionals, and some came back. This is similar to the Vineyard. The younger generation goes out, but keeps their roots and their identity. This can happen with people who immigrate here.”

Some of Borges’ past projects included examining a traditional all-day public market, or mercado, in Brazil. Another focused on the historic center of her hometown, Porto Alegre.

Future projects she is considering are, among others, one concerning the Brazilians here who do domestic and construction work. Borges is intrigued by the idea of visually investigating the Mantenópolis and Cuparaque communities, where many of the Brazilians in the Vineyard have lived.

As an educator, Borges has used images to convey knowledge in her research. A teacher since she was a high school student herself, she has worked with every age from elementary through college. She is currently an interpreter at the Edgartown School.

“I heard about Cape Cod and the Vineyard in Brazil, when I started to do visual anthropology. We had a professor who did her postdoc studying the area, and did a beautiful anthropological research project that examined the first communities of Brazilians who came to Cape Cod and built relations with people who had Portuguese heritage.” 

Borges and her husband decided to live on the Island permanently last June. “It was first love,” she reflects about the reason for the move. “I hope to contribute a lot to the community, to both sides, not just the Brazilians but everyone. To build bridges. To know about each other. Of course, we have many differences, but many things in common. Brazil is a mixed culture … We face some of the same issues.”

“I love the Vineyard and plan to be here,” she continues. “It’s a beautiful place, and I like the quietness. I also think the Island embraces those with artistic souls.”