the original text by L. Christeseva
When I was a child I liked listening to my mother’s stories about the war. She was born when WWII started, in 1939, in a small village in Belarus and she never knew her father – he went missing during the war. Her mother – my grandmother – was left with five daughters; alone with the uncertainty and anguish of life during wartime. This female experience of war, a life without men, shaped my own understanding of what war looked and felt like – a lonely experience, full of fear and unfulfilled dreams. Even though these stories were at times dreadful, she always could find a human, occasionally even humorous angle by weaving in her experience of being a woman during the war. My mother’s narratives intersected with the cinematic imagery of the war and I visualized in black and white the accounts of what it meant to be a woman in the Europe of the 1940’s.
One of my favourite stories was the one about a dress. My mother had only one dress, which she shared with her sisters. She had to wait for one of her sisters to come home from school, and then she would put the dress on and go to school while her other sisters would wait for her. Just like this shared dress from my mother’s sisters, the experience of the war symbolised also the shared experience of living somebody else’s life, somebody else’s nightmare, but also sharing common sorrow and being united in a common loneliness.
This memory of a dress haunted me for years till I discovered toiles, the prototype versions of ready–to-wear garments. It struck me how fragile their lives were – fulfilling its purpose as the very first sample of someone’s new dress toiles inevitably end up in the garbage bin. This reminded me of the lives of many women during the war that were wasted without even given a chance to ripen; feelings and experiences that were never to happen and dreams never to be fulfilled.
War’s Unwomanly Face
By placing these dresses in Artillerigården in front of the building of the Army museum, I make a statement about women’s bodily experiences of war. By doing that, I also connect my work to the book of Svetlana Aleksijevitj “War’s Unwomanly Face”, which became a huge inspiration for this project. The book recounts women’s memories about the atrocities and conflicts they went through fighting for their country alongside men during WWII. Pain, fear, love, pride, courage, devotion, despair, mourning, disgrace and many other emotions penetrate their painful and heart-breaking stories. Bringing these memories to the public is vital today. This is a project that aims to set in motion a new challenge to the collective memory through this art installation which emphasizes the importance of reflecting as a society on our memories of the past in order to re-evaluate our present and future aspirations.