Group Portrait

in the frame of the exhibition The Need for Practice
curator: Judit Angel
May 2014

Using a compound photograph and bits of text that make up a selective chronology, our work Group Portrait is a reflection of the interconnections between the private lives of three generations of women (our grandmothers, our mothers and ourselves) and the mainstream discourses about women’s emancipation which provided the background for these lives, and still does.
The compound photograph is made using an anachronic technique. This technique was used in the past to bring together in one portrait persons from different photos, taken at different points in time. Thus, the uncle who had died in the war 30 years before could pose next to nephews born ten years after his death. In these bizarre photos, chronology was abolished in favour of a family narrative outside death or time boundaries. Our compound photograph Group Portrait uses this technique to bring our portraits together with our mothers’ and grandmothers’ in a moment of their life to which we can relate: we portray them as young unmarried women, before their lives entered the course of self-sacrifice and self-oblivion that they accepted as their given.
This compound photograph is accompanied by a selective chronology which refers to the historical context in which different aspects related to women’s emancipation appeared and had an impact on the private lives of the three generations of women. Our grandmothers were young at a time when women won rights that had been inaccessible before 1945 and thus, at least in theory, they became equal partners to men in the public sphere. Our mothers were young at a time when they could enjoy full rights to education and to the labour market, irrespective of their social condition – but also a time when their private lives were marked by the spectre of forced motherhood. We are young women in a world in which we are told that everything is possible, as heiresses to our predecessors’ victories. We are told that we can be anything and we can have anything, and if we fail we only have ourselves to blame. Our grandmothers and mothers lived in times of change but their private lives did not budge too far or got emancipated from the norms of patriarchal family tradition. Our own times often feel like the end of the world, and we constantly hear that fighting is a thing of the past and that protesting is out-of-date and ineffective.
The fragments in our chronology reflect the ways in which the histories of the women who preceded us are insinuating themselves in our own lives, even if our present is so different from theirs and even if our knowledge of their lives and historical context is incomplete and subjective. Also, the image in which we, the nine women, pose together beyond time, speaks about these subtle interconnections between our histories, despite the differences between us and our strife to be emancipated from our predecessors. At the same time, the photo is the image of a family that is not connected by genetics, but by our desire, the desire of the third generation, to undermine the omnipresent neo-conservative discourse that declare “blood ties” as the only warrants of togetherness; our family is connected by our desire to herald the possibility of family bound by solidarity and friendship. Our life is not and cannot be fully sheltered from the pressures of ubiquitous discourses tying woman down to her traditional roles. This is our resistance, simmering under calm waters.

Group Portrait: the text in the installation

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