A participatory creative event which began with a single photograph.
Standing outside of the front door of her home in Scotland, Christine posed for a short series of photographs – a spontaneously playful exploration of a woman’s identity. I shot the images on film, and later we continued the series in a studio setting using digital photography.
The grainy black and white photograph of Christine holding a metal pot over her head evokes connotations of an improvised emergency helmet during a war, and the need for protection. This was intensified by the unsettling feeling of the nation-dividing Brexit referendum and the election of a misogynistic world leader which were both looming ahead in 2016.
Seeking the comfort of the company of other women, I invited to an afternoon of ‘Kaffee and Kuchen’ – the German tradition of afternoon coffee and cake.
For this, I had the image printed, nearly life-size, on a table cloth. Then I ‘dug out’ my grandmother’s old coffee set, which I had inherited in 2007 and never used.
Using this set felt appropriate in these unsettling times. In my family, I am of the first post-war generation, with my parents being born before and during the war. As was common among German war survivors, the war was never talked about. All I know about my mother’s mother is that, with her husband and brothers away at war, she had to fend for herself and her five young children, all by herself and became a refugee in her own country. She and her children were displaced, having to flee the advancing conflict first from the West, and then from the East. War often brings violence against women. I don’t know her personal experiences, but she never recovered from these traumatising times and died in her fifties.
The five women who participated in this performative event were of American, English, Italian, Polish and German backgrounds. We set the table together including the table cloth and spent an afternoon talking about whatever we felt like talking about.
This was the only time I ever used my grandmother’s coffee set.
I carefully wrapped it up again, and eventually donated it to a Scottish charity set up by a woman (set up in late 2015) which is dedicated to welcoming and supporting refugees who arrive in this country (Scotland).
In 2019, this very coffee set was passed on to a refugee family of five, who had fled conflict in their country, and had arrived in Glasgow with only the clothes they were wearing.
I held another women’s gathering in Tallinn (Estonia) in 2017 with local women.
Experiencing the long time of ‘social distancing’ and lock-down during the coronavirus pandemic (mid-March until end of July 2020 for high-at-risk households in Scotland) I wonder if and how I might be able revisit this idea in the future.
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