Discovering Commonalities in Apparent Differences and Changing the Perspective on the Self and the Other
Gaby Franger, Curator, Museum Frauenkultur Regional-International, Furth, Bavaria, Germany, http://www.frauenindereinenwelt.de/
The Museum “Women’s Culture Regional – International” offers a space for dialogue and to discuss controversies, both local and global, both related to the past and the present. Our approach to conscientization is principally rooted in the structures of women’s own lives, their inherent wishes and the capacities of women themselves.
Experiences of women worldwide with patriarchal structures and inequality are the subject of discussions and intercultural and transcultural dialogues that we initiate. Our specific approach can be defined by three cornerstones: our identity as a women’s museum, the focus on women’s everyday lives, and the consequent intercultural approach.
We describe and analyse processes which affect women specifically, we point to disparities, but at the same time, open new perspectives for possible actions. We narrate global developments as reflected in biographies of women who communicate and transcend borders of time and space. This approach allows us to discover commonalities in apparent differences and to change the perspective on the self and the other, the familiar and the foreign, development and what is understood as under-development. This is our special concern as well as a stylistic device.
One important dimension of dialogue is the relationship between feminist visual arts and the so-called popular art or handicraft emerging out of traditional women’s occupations, as well as the discourse about female art forms and their subversive potential.
With our exhibitions and educational projects we enable and create space for intercultural dialogues, mediating between feminist consciousness and everyday’s women’s lives, between traditions and “modern” life, between exigencies of gender-mainstreaming and the view of the world from a woman’s perspective. And we do this continuously and through open and intercultural dialogues.
Inclusive Peace Practices: Displaying Responsibility, Friday 21 October 2016
International Women’s Museums Conference – Women’s Museums: Centre of Social Memory and Place of Inclusion, Istanbul, 20-22 October 2016
PRESENTATION TEXT IN DETAIL
Views – Perspectives – Insights
What is obscuring our gaze on other women? The head scarf, the veil, or preconceived images in our head?
Images are not unbiased. We fill new, unknown or surprising images with interpretations all the time. What can we see, what do we want to see? Can we put deeply ingrained thought patterns aside when we look at others?
Cultures of Veiling: Panama /Tschad /Guatemala /Franconia
Çarşaf, Istanbul 1896,
Rainfall blanket, Nürnberg, 16th -18th century
Taquile, Peru 1987
Women in One World – Center for intercultural women’s everyday lives and international exchange, the association that runs the Museum Women’s Culture Regional – International, was founded in 1989 by researchers, artists and educators of different mother tongues as an interdisciplinary forum for cross-cultural studies and international solidarity.
Our starting capital was the travelling exhibition “The Headscarf. Just a piece of fabric in history and presence” that is successfully shown since 1986. With an updated exhibition, “Cultures of Headscarves”, we started our now ten-year-long run of the museum.
The concept of this first exhibition consists of a historical examination of different patriarchal cultures that are imposing dress codes to control women and the counterstrategies of women in occident and orient. It displays aesthetical and cultural concepts of veiling and not veiling and analyzes political discourses which started at the end of the 19th century.
In lights of growing islamophobia and general suspicions of terrorism against practicing Muslims and visible Muslim women, traditional prejudices and thought patterns of violent patriarchal and racist structures gain an explosive actuality with threatening dimensions not only for Muslim women.
Through encounters, dialogue and challenging the meaning of self-determination we try to contribute to overcoming the overly heated discourse and to achieve mutual understanding as one way – our way – to promote social peace.
This perspective pervades all our exhibitions and activities. Common and shared experiences, as well as differences between women worldwide who are disputing patriarchal structures, inequality and injustice are subject of our exhibitions, with the aim of initiating intercultural and transcultural dialogues.
Our specific approach can be defined by three cornerstones: our identity as a women’s museum, the focus on women’s everyday lives, and the consequent consistent application of intercultural methods and crossing of all kinds of borders.
Our Identity as a Women’s Museum
The Museum “Frauenkultur Regional – International” recognizes and affirms all forms of cultural diversity at the local, regional and international levels. It offers a space for dialogue and controversial discussions, both local and global, both related to the past and the present, and tries to reflect this diversity in the policies and programs of the museum.
Our approach to conscientization is principally rooted in the structures of women’s lives, their inherent wishes and capacities.
Rosa Palomino, Aymara activist, 1992 in Franconia, 2014 as speaker of the 2nd international parliament of indigenous women in Lima
Concurrently, we confront contradictions between feminist consciousness and everyday life of women, between tradition and modernity, between demands of gender mainstreaming and the observation of the world from a woman’s perspective.
Respecting and reflecting the diversity of women’s lives are our tools to achieve inclusion – the right to live full lives, the possibility to learn from each other, the right to be different. In our understanding this includes a vivid culture of dispute and a controversial debating culture.
We describe and analyze processes which affect women in a specific way, like connubial migration, international care chains, what it means to be a refugee woman, or specific situations of elderly women. We point out disparities, but at the same time open up new perspectives for possible action.
We narrate global developments as reflected in biographies of women who communicate and transcend borders of time and space. This approach allows us to discover commonalities in differences and to change the perspective on the self and the other, the familiar and the foreign, on development and what is understood as underdevelopment.
The museum is rooted in the feminist approach to education, which does not start from deficits, but from the consciousness of one’s own structures, wishes and competences.
An important dimension of dialogue is the relation between feminist visual arts and the so-called popular art or handicraft emerging out of traditional women’s occupations, as well as the discourse about female art forms and their subversive potential.
The museum presents all kinds of strategies women are using to be seen and to be heard with their stories, opinions, and demands for awareness, be it with braided ribbons, embroidered images, elaborated quilts, poems, narrations, photos, films, paintings or songs.
Women’s Everyday Lives in Focus
Kalyani on the quilt: Work is most important to me. By work, I mean not only my profession as a textile designer, but also my daily routine as a mother and housewife. I hate routine. But you are forced into it, especially as a woman. Routine is doing everything for everybody around me first, before making time for myself. I have learned to cope with it.
So all the figures in the quilt are myself, except the dancer. I have put the dancer in because I get inspired by music and dance. The figures show me doing house work, shopping with my daughter, and at work.
All the images merge with each other. They are not separate. That is how my days are: all activities are combined with each other (from: The Art of Survival, Fabric Images of Women’s Daily Lives, 1995).
The Museum “Women’s Culture Regional – International” owns a considerable collection of items of women’s daily lives, household equipment from all continents, in particular from traditional, rural living environments.
These objects, together with stories from everyday life, present an important, often underestimated cultural value. We take women’s everyday life seriously and acknowledge the day-to-day performance of women.
Traditional kitchens in Chile, Peru, India
The fine art of cooking in a German kitchen with flavor and style
Comparing details of the daily lives of women in different living conditions, environments, cultures and sub-cultures, “natural” certainties are no longer taken for granted. Instead, it may be a path towards mutual understanding.
We consider, compare and look at situations usually taken for granted from new angles and highlight comparable situations of women in different regions and cultures.
We relate situations of women from different countries, cultures and social classes and visualize mutual dependencies like in the global migration chain of women who work in the caretaking and cleaning sectors. German women employ Turkish cleaning women, women in Turkey delegate housework to women from Turkmenistan and so son, this chain can be followed around the entire globe.
Sorry, Ms. Ümmükan has broken the lamp“
Is there anything in common between brewer women in Burkina Faso and Franconia?
What connects the life of farmer women in the Peruvian Andes to those in Franconia?
What kinds of experiences link female basket weavers in Zambia and Upper Franconia – only increasing competence through globalization, or also joy and pride about beautiful and useful domestic goods?
Additional subjects of discussion are personal encounters of women who do not know each other: The images domestic and migrant women, work migrants, marriage migrants, and refugee women have of each other. How do women cope with real or supposed differences when they meet? How can they relate to and counsel each other? Can they learn something new out of their encounters?
Spotlight on Women’s Rights
Women movements from all countries develop different ways to achieve true equality, and thus women are able to learn from each other. Through global women networks, transnational spaces for information and communication have been created.
We discuss questions women face all over the world. What does globalization mean to women who are disadvantaged and to those who can be considered as benefiting from it?
Working schedule of a house maid in Germany 1899
We decided very consciously to employ exactly this Hindu maid.“(Richard Märlein)
Women like Flowers, buy flowers. The market volume of flowers and ornamental plants in Germany in 2011 increased one percent up to 8,599 Billion Euro. The expenditure per capita increased to 106 Euro per year. Most of the buyers are women.
Women like Flowers and work with flowers. A florist in Germany earns 1400-1600 Euros per month. A vehicle technician earns around 3500 Euros per month.
Florist is nearly exclusively a female vocation.
How are increasing migration and neoliberalism affecting women? How do women imagine a just world?
The foreign debt, Arpillera, Mujeres Creativas (Creative Women), Lima 1990, 120×118 cm.
What is determining our lives? Our standard of living is very low. The families that come to Lima because they can’t make a living in the countryside, or who flee from military clashes in their region, build these straw huts for themselves on the outskirts of Lima. There’s no water and no electricity in these districts, no schools, no streets, no public transport. The struggles to get infrastructure often last for years, we organize marches and demand solutions.
There is no legal work. Everybody tries to sell something. Children sell candy and newspapers, women prepare food that they sell on the street. But the profit they get out of it is not enough to survive. So people begin to borrow. But what happens? The interest rises out of all proportion and ruins people. The debts eat up all the earnings. And we women have to bear the biggest part of the burden.
Standing in the center is the cause for all of it: Foreign capital. During the last crisis, which began in the 1980s, women began to organize themselves and we came up with the idea of communal kitchens. But we organize ourselves not only to cook, to share what little we have somewhat better. We want work, paid work.
We, the creative women, joined to show the world, especially the women, how we live and how we struggle in order to go on.
Aesthetical interpretations of a cheerful arpillera become obsolete as unjust power structures appear. Applications in cheerful colors upon closer examination become a plaint against exploitation of one world through the other.
Cultures of Memory. Threads that Break the Silence
Starting from their own perception, the discussions about women’s rights and the strategies of women to overcome conflict, their activities within peace movements become visible through our installations, images, and photographs.
Saroj, India 1995: Civil War. Hindu and Muslim men are fighting and mistreating a woman while the women of the same village need to cooperate drawing water from a well.
Which memories are women tying their identity to, and which kinds of memories do women contribute the political community to which they belong?
100 years of womens‘ peace movements Exhibition: War Socks and Peacemaker Women 2015
Women activists and women organisations of 100 years of peace movements are gathered symbolically through coloured ribbons on this peace table. The goals of all of these women are very similar, but the topics they are focusing on and the ways in which they are acting are manyfold and “feminine” in the best sense of the word.
An important medium for intercultural dialogue is our collection of textile art, quilts and arpilleras: tapestries, most of which have been created as documentations of societal structures disadvantaging women. They tell of violent conflicts on the individual as well as the societal level, and how women contrast these with their art of survival
We present female mediums of memory and analyze their function and particularity; no heroic stories, but individual memories of experienced pain.
Three stations in the life of the arpillerista Enma Hilario, † 2014
- Women leader in her community in a shantytown in Lima
- Victim of an assassination attempt
- Working for women‘s rights in her exile in Costa Rica
Solidarity and Mutual Understanding
The voices of single women as well as examples of solidary action become visible and the voices are enabled to be heard.
We deduce new answers to counteract the saturation with multi-media images of war and provide variable forms of emotional distance or emotional participation and allow ambivalences of evaluation. Working in this way is our primary goal as well as a stylistic device.
An Afghan rug with motives of armaments was the starting point for a discussion in the “Monday Cafe” in the town of Forchheim, where local and refugee women meet. Freya Filipp, physician, quilter, and part of the team of the museum as well as the cafe, proposed to give a response to these symbols of destruction. So women and youth expressed their “No to war” in all of their native languages on this quilt.
This exclamation not only prompted empathy with the refugees, but also reflection and discussion among the visitors of our 2015 exhibition about how all of us are directly or indirectly involved in this situation and how we can oppose the warmongering.
Shaping the Practice of our Museum
Since the early days of our association, a big part of our work, while done by professionals, has been realized as voluntary work with varying opportunities through projects and limited contracts – rarely full-time, often part-time – for curators, designers, and management.
The conditions for non-profit women organizations like ours are not better now than 20 years ago – the work in the museum is still mainly based on voluntary engagement at all levels: from developing concepts, to research, curating, the publication of catalogues, conducting all kinds of events, guided tours through the exhibit, custody and fundraising.
We were allotted a charming building, the baroque Marstall of the earls of Pückler-Limburg (a horse stable and the seat of the earl’s widow, built in 1731) from the city of Fürth free of rent. The city provides a basic budget to run the museum, but this does not include a budget for personnel or new exhibition projects.
Entrance and front garden of Museum Frauenkultur Regional – International
Due in part to the spatial conditions of the building, but mainly because the museum is situated in the outskirts of the city of Fürth – which many of our visitors perceive as a lovely place in a remote village – we do not have a permanent section in the museum, but changing exhibitions, where we combine objects and art pieces from our own collection with lent art pieces from women artists from all over the world.
Again due to the conditions of the museum’s building, we are only able to open from May to October. We change our exhibitions annually or bi-annually. So, within the last ten years, we produced seven exhibitions.
The installation also symbolizes that all of us – even our grandmothers and great-grandmothers – are participating with their kitchen utensils to create something new and worth looking at.
Realizing and loaning exhibitions is a very different business from maintaining a museum. Fortunately, the concept of active and inclusive participation within the collective of Women in One World, as well as the idea of a Women’s Museum, attracted a variety of women from the region to participate.
Since the opening of the museum, more women – currently around 30 – with different personal, professional and migratory experiences, and not only from an academic background, are taking over duties in management, accounting, housekeeping, as museum guides, etc. There is also a fruitful cooperation with regional voluntary agencies for short-term supporting tasks like repairs and cleaning, but more importantly, they connect us with women who are willing to participate at all levels of museum work.
Due to changes in the personal situations of interested volunteers, these connections are exciting because of the of inclusion of women from the region with different backgrounds and capacities into the museum team. These new activists are taken seriously as experts of their everyday lives and they are capable of developing new abilities, and so the group as a whole profits from diverse everyday experiences as well as from professional skills of different women. This also means that all of us have to learn new creative forms of dialogue, both inside the association, but also corresponding with the population and stakeholders of nearby villages, towns and the metropolitan cities Fürth and Nürnberg.
Inclusive curatorial praxis means then that the decisions about the topics and the concepts of upcoming exhibitions are realized in a joint process including all active members of the association. Under the direction of teams of two or three curators, working groups are formed, and in different compositions all of us are included in the process of content elaboration, the search for additional objects, and the involvement of artists and lecturers for the seasonal program.
Inclusion: A new member, master of domestic-economy, provides the curators of our 2016 exhibition “ausgekocht” with profound professional knowledge. On the other hand, for the first time in her life she researched on the internet, in archives and museums of the region about some issues relating to the globalization of food production and contributed her findings. She also offered workshops for kids and young adults combining potato harvest, cooking and teaching everything around nutrition as well as historical stories about potatoes.
This principle of an active membership, of varying curatorial teams with professional, but unpaid instruction, through an interdisciplinary and intercultural cooperation of women of different provenience is exciting and demanding at the same time. It means that the development of our exhibitions – their high quality has been attested multiple times – itself represents a magnificent potential for empowerment.
Giving Women a Voice
In history, women had to struggle hard to get a voice. The museum is a place to give women a platform. In order to empower women to express themselves without fear and act responsibly, today we remember the past and reflect the varieties of women’s everyday lives, cultures of women and women-specific ways of dialogue across hostile borders trying to contribute to social peace.
 Akkent, Meral; Franger, Gaby (Hg.) (1987): Das Kopftuch – Nur ein Stückchen Stoff in Geschichte und Gegenwart. Basörtü. Geçmişte ve Günümüzde Bir Parça Kumaş, Frankfurt.