Plurality of Women’s Live
Sigrid Prader, Director, Museo della Donna, Merano, Italy, http://www.museia.it
One of the challenges of our women’s museum is that we are not just a place for exhibitions and for the collection of objects, but the museum is thought as a lively place of encounter and discourse. We initiate cultural comparative projects and focus on the reflexive engagement with the known and the unknown. We already exhibited a couple of photo documentary projects with accompanying books.
An example would be the project: Aufbrechen, ankommen. Frauen unterwegs nach Meran. (Leaving, arriving. Women on their way to Meran). This project fits very well in our focus of intercultural encounter, because the Women’s Museum Meran has always engaged with the plurality of Women’s lives in a regional, global and social context.
Arriving in a new “home” is a contemporary issue now more than ever. It is important that this topic is treated and reflected also in the world of museums, because it includes essential issues like belonging – diversity – identity. Thereby we would like to open up a space for discussion and to take a look at diversity of culture and people. For us diversity means the recognition of and the engagement with the unknown. How do we treat questions like: Where are the borders? How do we handle cultural differences?
As women talk “about” their experiences and are involved as creators, we avoid the risk of reproducing Eurocentric images or stereotypes. By presenting these “stories of Women’s everyday life” in a globalized world, there will be surprising similarities in cultures that seem to be very far from each other. Thereby we discover ourselves by the motto “Finding the other in the mirror of the own”. Through these encounters we become aware of connecting as well as separating elements, similarities and differences stand equally next to each other. With this exhibition we would like to make a statement and address a broad public, which often has a preconceived opinion on migration and immigrants.
Inclusive Practices on the Local Level, Thursday 20 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
The chosen theme of “Plurality Of Women’s Lives” is more relevant now than ever before and deserves much great importance and reflection in the world of museums.
We deal with the subject of the plurality of female life plans in a regional, global and societal context at the Women’s Museum Merano.
When we talk about affiliation, we have to put attention on some gender inequalities, even though women are increasingly noticed in areas where they formerly were not been seen.
How does the Women’s Museum in Merano function
The Women’s Museum operates as a non-profit association and is located on the last two floors of the former monastery of the order of the Poor Clares (14th cent.) at the Piazza del Grano in Merano.
Fortunately, cooperation between municipal competent authorities has led to an adaptation of the two floors, which met museum requirements. The city rented the buildings for a fixed period of twenty years for the woman museum.
The reflection on and challenging of the changing images and role models of women of our society is the purpose of the narrative tool of the museum.
The story telling tools for the permanent exhibit are select from the museum’s collection of clothes, accessories and everyday objects of the past 200 years. History did not take much notice of these as “private” categorized items.
We assume that fashion mirrors society, and consequently, we interpret its various modes as the spirit of the time of each era. The same applies to the everyday items.
Every object, every activity, that started in a given time period, is connected with certain objectives, ideologies, attitudes or aspirations. Besides the interesting story behind the individual items, we always bring to light the interdisciplinary social roles and ideals as attributed to women by representatives of the church, medicine, the state, philosophy, literature, and so on.
It is important that women should be viewed with full powers to act in society. Furthermore, history does not signify only progress but that something “new” is added, while at the same time something “old” is lost. From this perspective, we narrate the story of each piece of clothing, everyday object and stories related to women.
It is our aim to show how the gender assignment – the female/male roles that women and men believe to play – are historically developed and ever-changing concepts.
Thus, we are in a process of reflection. Reflection upon how identities are constructed and how they changed and will change. We want to create space for dialogue and social criticism. We take a glance at the diversity of man and culture, at contradictions, and, thus, consider diversity as part of cultural heritage! Diversity means recognition and studying the others. Where are the limits? How do we deal with cultural differences?
The challenges of the women’s museums include not only exhibitions and storage but they also should be vital meeting and communication places.
We initiate repeatedly comparative cultural projects, and we place reflective analysis on the “own” and the “other” into the focus.
We performed a multi-annual sustainable project from 2000 to 2005 related to Women/Work/Working Environments. The reason was the partnership of the women‘s museums of Merano and of Goree in Senegal – a bridge between North and South.
This partnership has led by means of cultural-comparative presentation of female everyday lives to the discovery of similarities and to the experience according to the motto “seeing the foreign in the mirror of the self.” In a globalized world, “everyday life of women” illustrates, perhaps surprisingly, that in many cultures, far apart from one another, do exist commonalities.
With this partnership, we wanted to put down a marker to reach a wide audience that has often biased opinions about migration and immigrants.
The main aim of the cooperation was mutual support and cultural exchange.
In their permanent exhibitions, both museums focus, in particular, on the history of female role and images in their society by the narrative means of clothes, everyday objects, furniture and fixtures.
Beyond the immediate range of the museum, both museums try to advocate for women’s issues in their respective regions.
The beginning of the meeting and the joint projects Women/Work/Working Environments.
In spite all the existing differences between different cultures, the topic “women and work” brought us closer together.
We have examined women’s work, which stands at the crossroad between world market integration and traditional utilities industry.
We sat our target: to view, to compare and to make visible the day-to-day work of women, for instance, the care work performed for centuries by women.
Indeed, we believe that the predominant image in general we have of Africa, and, in particular, of African women is, even if we strive for a more reflective way of viewing, still shaped by Eurocentric and racistic stereotypes.
In our opinion, the following important factors should be a rule for all our exhibitions:
- Besides presenting the content of the exhibition, it is very vital to include also victims as designers – that helps to avoid stereotypes.
- To show the plurality of female life plans by considering the social status, ethnicity, age, education or family.
- To point out the relationships, contradictions, similarities and differences by means of depiction.
- In our projects, we always want to show the achievements of women of several cultures, moreover, to show an impartial description of their society concerns.
A comparison between the different realities creates proximity to other regions, allowing the visitors to relate the own native world of women to foreign female worlds in other continents.
The confrontation of different situations of women in various foreign cultures led to a deeper understanding of cultural differences, it made aware of connections and divisions, and highlighted global connections. Similarities and differences are on equal footing.
Two years ago, our museum and the adult education centre of Merano jointly carried out a photo documentary: “Leaving And Arriving. Women On The Road To Merano”
The photo exhibition presented the story and everyday life of various female migrants in Merano.
Openness, acceptance, encounter and exchanges between women with an immigrant background and native women were promoted.
Topics such as “ties with own original areas”, “desires and needs”, “challenges of a new cultural adaptation and future visions” were extensively discussed.
Individuality and versatility of these women were brought to the fore and evoking an increase of self-confidence.
Ultimately, a process was promoted, which illustrated togetherness between women
In 2013, we had another photo-documentary exhibit, “Dis-Covered Women In Morocco”. The photos presented portraits of seven Moroccan women who committed themselves to social change of the patriarchal system in Morocco in their own environment. The addressed topics such as prejudice and stereotypes animated the visitors for discussion and reflection on diversity, prejudices and freedom of expression. The portraits challenged the usual representation of the Islamic woman, the stereotype picture of the Islamic woman as subject and without own will.
The western feminism as laicistic feminism has made substantial progress, but still women in the West, in Europe and America, are suppressed, beaten, or women are still lagging men when it comes to earning power. Things do not happen overnight, it is not even the present generation, which will benefit from these new changes, but future generations.
Main focus is on the work with groups and schools.
Numerous groups developed together a workshop together with a mediator.
Some of the raised and mooted topics were prejudice and stereotypes, which were interactively played, experienced and discussed.
The usual representation of Muslim women was questioned, and, prejudices, freedom of expression and opinion, in this context, discussed. The didactic modules had been prepared so that the students became protagonists and thus, aware of their own prejudices and opinions.
The Women’s Museum Merano has established and maintained a close contact with human rights activists who engaged themselves for democracy in countries like Iran, and were, therefore, also prosecuted and punished.
The Women’s Museum Merano provides also a physical platform, called host display-case, to depict creatively their perspective on female-specific topics and the various worlds of female life. The view- case gives space to personal interpretation and enables them to begin a dialog with us and other interested persons.
The Women’s Museum Merano repeatedly offered also to lesbian women’s groups to hold seminars and book reviews voicing for their concerns of recognition and their own lives.
For this reason, we understand our women museum to be a place of inclusion rather than just places of cultural education. Until a few years ago the word inclusion more strictly technical meant accessibility, whereas the term itself constantly broadens in the light of recent developments.
The guiding principle with which we set to work: We would like everybody to participate!
Today inclusion addresses and includes everybody and all groups in society, which implies new challenges for everyone involved.
In my view, it is important that all museums maintain its innovative character. On these grounds, we have gone beyond the scope of a traditional museum. Besides other achievements, we have developed into a centre of culture, art, and education. We have addressed taboo issues and initiated socio-political discussions, but new steps need to be taken again and again.