The show consists of 34 images
The exhibition Queejna/Queen shows women with different backgrounds and opportunities in a number of photographic works by Elin Berge taken between 2004 – 2018. The women portrayed have in common that they are often seen as provoking to their surroundings or perceived as victims for social and/or religious norms in society. The photographs ask questions like: What is real love? What is male/female? Who is entitled to the female body?
The title of the exhibition Queejna/Queen showcases the duality of the word queejna, which the Västerbotten-born writer Sara Lidman used in the meaning of ”woman”. The word queejna can also mean the “queen of the house”, i.e. a powerful woman, as she applied it when she described Hagar, the wild independent woman in the epic The Railway. Hagar was also called ”främmenqueejna”, which, with a postmodern interpretation, can be read as ”The Other”. Berge has with her camera sought to find groups of women that, in different ways, are dealt with as ”The Other”, thus embracing Sara Lidmans term Queejna.
Berge uses her camera to look for alternative interpretations of an apparently obvious situation. The photographs return our gaze to ourselves. What do we really think about the women’s life choices and what does it tell us about ourselves as observers? The exhibition includes, among other things, portraits of young Muslim women in the project Veils, which testify to how a hijab can provide freedom in a sexist community. The work challenges a general view of the veil as a religious symbol and we ask ourselves who is free or oppressed in society. In the same room as the exhibition is the work The Awakening which portrays a group of women who find the freedom to affirm their naked bodies. The groups may seem far apart, but on closer inspection, have something in common in their longing for being a woman without the condemnatory view of society. In the series The Land of Queens and The Kingdom, the image of Thai women who emigrated to our country and married Swedish men is nuanced. The work explores major questions about migration, power structures, freedom of choice as human beings, welfare and love.
Through Berge’s eyes, all women appear as individuals in their own right. She focuses on their actions and strengths, even in a reality that includes oppressive structures. For future generations of young women and men, a nuanced image of our world is important as an injection against prejudices, which can contribute to a more tolerant environment.
In the exhibition Queejna/Queen, Berge shows pictures from the previous series Suicide Girls (2004), Veils (2006), Bare Breasts (2008), The Land of Queens (2009) and The Kingdom (2015), and newer works like Predators (2018) and The Awakening (work in progress).
Texts: Susanne Fessé
In the series Predators, Elin Berge portrays women hunting elk in the forests of Västerbotten. These photographs show strong, proud and confident people in a historical male domain. Neither fear or worry is seen in their eyes when they control nature and death. Their big rifles, the colossal animals, the blood on their hands, and a thick fog in the ancient forests further contribute to creating a sense of human strength and security.
The environment, a sublime forest landscape in which only people with significant knowledge of nature would survive without today's modern techniques, cement the sense of control among the depicted women. A hunter provides food for his or her family, by going out into the forest to kill animals.
When women take this position, it is still something that makes some people stop and reflect on accustomed structures in society. In one of the photographs, an elderly woman is holding a severed elk's head in front of her body. This photograph has a deeper meaning to the young girls who grow up today, a strong role model and an opportunity to question accustomed patterns and predetermined thinking about what is female and male.
To own one's body
In a number of works, Elin Berge depicts how different groups of women want to reclaim the right to their own bodies and change the way other people see them. Pre-conceived notions concerning nudity, liberation, and seeing the veil as either an oppressive symbol or a protective tool, are represented here as women's collective desire to have power over their own bodies.
The group depicted in the series Bare Breasts claims the right to go to, among many places, public bathhouses with a nude upper body. The series The Awakening shows a group of women that come together in spiritual gatherings to embrace their sexuality and their bodies.
The series Veils depicts young Muslim women who all carry hijabs, a religious symbol but also an opportunity for bodily freedom in a sexualized world. The photographs in the series Suicide Girls show women belonging to alternative sub-cultures, who by showing themselves in nude pictures online, want to broaden the common concept of what female sexuality can look like.
Elin Berges work raises questions about the body’s neutrality and how far you can go before the line is crossed and it turns into provocation. The women’s attire/nudity gives us a nuanced view on bodily freedom.
The land of Queens (2009) and The Kingdom (2015)
In Sweden, there is nearly 30 000 people that are born in Thailand, most of them women. In the series The land of Queens and The Kingdom, we get to meet people from two rural areas, Västerbotten in Sweden and Isaan in north-eastern Thailand, who's fates have been linked together in a dream of a mutually life.
The subject “migration marriage”, or in popular speech called “love migration”, is seen by many as provocative. Elin Berge wanted to try to understand the driving force behind the decision to establish oneself in a new environment, culture and family. Many of the women in the project share their dreams of a better life, the will to mean something to your family and the thought of breaking the chains of an earlier life situation.
The photographs seem to approach the question – what is real love? There are many answers but none of them are easy.
Elin Berge has, for over ten years, followed women who have lived in Sweden for a long time as well as those who have just arrived. The work depicts happiness and disappointment, daily chores and holidays. Women and men who all long for safety, love and respect show a nuanced picture. The photographs highlight that simple answers can evoke important questions about love and life.