“My mother is in the center of the photo, I can see her discomfort, her absent smile, her desire for the photo to end, her tired face, some disorder in her clothes, the drowsiness in her eyes, I know it’s hot , that she is exhausted, bored. But it’s by the way of dressing us, her children, as if we were poor, that I notice a state in which my mother sometimes fell and already, with the age we had in the photo, we knew the signs that preceded, and so we knew precisely that she would suddenly be incapable of bathing, dressing, and sometimes even unable to feed us. Mother spent all day at disposal of the great misfortune that is living.”
Marguerite Duras, The Lover.
Today, under the guise of modernity and continuous change, gender roles are being perpetuated through various mechanisms.
Social norms (marriage, monogamy, fidelity, heterosexuality); Created speeches (the role of women in society, stories told in tales, films, advertising, video clips and lyrics); School’s way of educating, are several examples of very useful tools in the transmission of cultural structures. Each individual, without being aware, offers his/her small but indispensable contribution. In this system, grandmothers transmit to their daughters the social expectations, and these daughters, becoming mothers, do the same with their daughters. From a very early age, each person plays his/her determined role.
And in this context the Lola Lolita NoLola project comes up, when a woman wonders who she is and decides to face a pending conversation with the previous generations of her family: her mother (Lolita) and her grandmother (Lola). NoLola comes to the conclusion that she will incarnate the new woman, the one who breaks with social standards and expectations, which breaks taboos, and is independent and fearless.
Lola Lolita NoLola begins as a poetic-theatrical performance, but reflection and the need to recreate herself in a dialogue led the creators of the project to carrying out workshops of liberation and artistic experimentation from which a collective material was created, and is now part of an exhibition that will debut in January at the Centro Civico Trinitat Vella, in Barcelona-Spain.
In one of the activities of the introductory workshop, the participants show pictures of themselves as well as their mothers, grandmothers and other family members and women whom they consider important.
From the memories, experiences and emotions that the various portrayals evoke, they wonder about the meaning of living in a woman’s body and collectively delve into how we were educated and about the patterns that have been reproduced from one generation to another as well as those which have been challenged.
Photo mother and daughter; Place Nizhnil Novgorod, Russia, 1990.
Let us share some of the reflections from the images and see how we interpret the lives of the women in our families and how we define ourselves.
One of the participants shows a picture of her mother next to her as a child, “she is the best person in the world for me. She has a lot of character. She can teach anything to anyone and sometimes she gets violent if someone acts nonchalantly about it. Sometimes she was very hard on me, but I learned to do some household chores perfectly. My mother cannot be alone; she always needs to be a couple. “
About the portrait in which she appears with sunglasses and alone in front of the camera, she says: “I had just moved to live with my partner at the time.” Then I began to realize that I was reproducing some of my mother’s behavior. In this photo I was 24. I had just overcome a lymphoma. I had no steady job. I did not know what I wanted to do in life. But I was very excited about my new analog camera and wanted to seduce it. And I think I got it. “
Self portrait with sunglasses: Barcelona, 2012.
Photo of women from different generations: Tenerife, 2006.
Another participant, however, presents us with a photo with several women from different generations and says: “My grandmother had to be a strong woman. Strolling through her photos, I realize that it is very difficult to find an image where she appears smiling. I don’t think it was forced or even that it determined whether she was happy or not.
My mother inherited from my grandmother this attitude like “it’s okay, I’m a strong woman, I can handle everything.” She would lock herself in the closet so her children would not see her cry. She confessed recently that if she had had the courage to make certain decisions, she might not have married or have had children. “
About herself and what the photo shows us, she says: “I’m showing my breasts because it represents personal liberation for me. I was 25 years old, but I realize now, at 36, that it was a false liberation. I believe that a free woman is the one who can recognize that she is not so, and that it’s necessary to fight a lot in order to become free, and in this struggle it’s necessary to be transparent and strong, to love and to accept.”
Self portrait with naked torso: Barcelona, 2008.
Photo of mother and daughter: Terrassa, 1987.
Another participant, in speaking of her mother explains: “she wanted me to be a good, well-educated girl, who wasn’t a handful and, at the same time, that nobody would hurt me. But that’s because she believed it would be better for me. One day, when I was an adult, she told me that she was once looking at the stories she told me when I was a child and that she felt ashamed because some had debatable taste and were inappropriate for a girl. ‘I don’t know how I didn’t realize it before,’ she told me.”
About her grandmother, she tells us some details about how she had to assume the role of a woman adapted to the expectations of the time: “I remember her in these family meals, but always attentive to what happened in the kitchen, so that everything would go well. Everyone else was at the table enjoying the feast she was preparing. I also remember that she sewed perfectly, detailed dresses for all my dolls (…). She had dreamed all her life about writing, but she could never do it, because of circumstances. She quarreled a lot with my grandfather, but they stayed together until the end. “
Photo of grandmother: Terrassa, X.
Photo of grandmother: Castellón, 1945.
In contrast, another participant presents her grandmother as a reference of fighting: “I feel completely identified with my maternal grandmother. And I did not bring any pictures of my mother, because somehow, I didn’t include her. We are from Castellón. There women are labeled immediately as good or bad. And they carry this label for the rest of their lives. If you follow the conventional rules, fine. You decide: either you adapt or you do not adapt. And that raises a lot of concern about your identity. I’m constantly asking myself who I am. My grandmother represents to me an example of a fighter. She was the first woman in town to study at university. She opposed herself to everything and went to Cadiz, knowing that she was breaking all the rules. They always called her whore (…). She taught me that it is never too late to fulfill your dreams. And in fact, she published a poetry book at the age of 80 (…). “
Picture of her: Cerdeña, 2010.
In her personal trajectory, her grandmother is very present: “I left too. I could not stand the constant judgment. For example, if I went out at night and hanged out with a boy, the next day, before getting out of bed, they had called my younger brother and told him. I want to be free, independent and live my life. “
Another participant presents us with a photo of her grandmothers and describes: “My grandparents are very different. I like them both, but I don’t look like any of them. The grandmother on my father’s side is part of Catalan bourgeoisie. She is in good health and has a woman who works at her house and does all the household chores. The grandmother on my mother’s side, on the contrary, has anemia, leukemia and cancer, but leaves home every day to go buy bread. “
Picture of grandmothers: Roses, 2001.
Picture of her and a friend: Barcelona, 2016.
She explains: “I did not feel comfortable at the school I attended. I wanted to break everything. When I changed school, I met a girl who felt like me (…). I’m a feminist. I struggle to change things. We women have been brought up to depreciate ourselves and to be depreciated. “
Another participant brought us a photo with two friends: “I admire them. With them I discovered that love doesn’t have to be only towards a man. And thus, by loving them, it was the first time that I have loved without wanting to change, being able to just be myself. Lovers leave, friends remain. “
Photo of her with friends: Barcelona, 2015.
Photo of her with little cousin: Collbató, 2016.
She also shows us a photo of her and her cousin before a marathon. About the girl she comments: “She is the youngest from my family on my father’s side. She’s the only one who’s ever been asked, ‘Do you like any boy or girl in your room?’ And I was the one to ask. Everyone else always asked, ‘Do you like any boys in your room? Although small, she already has the ideas very clear in her mind. She says that when she grows up, she wants to be a painter. I believe that when my cousin grows up, she will be a fighter, brave … Hope so!”
She said, “For me, running means finding a space of silence in which I am alone with my thoughts. I allow myself to think about the things that make me sick and to eliminate them through movement and sweat. I don’t feel judged or questioned, although I am annoyed by a certain paternalism on the part of men when they see me running around town. I hear things like, ‘look how she runs’, ‘Go, pretty’ and other comments that emphasize my physical appearance, without my asking for such an opinion. When a man does sport ‘it’s normal, he’s fine,’ when it’s a woman, people are more surprised.”
What messages do we, as women, receive from society? What is expected of us? How was our childhood? And the childhood of our mothers and grandmothers? Do we live and transmit, from mother to daughter, a stereotyped femininity?
Acquiring awareness of our standards of conduct is essential to decide whether we want to change them. In this sense, reflection on shared images allowed us to reconstruct life stories and trajectories, concluding that women experience strong pressure to comply with socially imposed patterns. To be a good wife, mother, not to be a whore, not to complain, not to stand out much, these are some conditioning factors that must be fulfilled to be a woman “as God tells us”, and get rid of stigma. Were our grandmothers and our mothers good? What about us?
Through collective discussions generated by the images of women from different generations, social origins and classes, which, despite the severe impositions to fulfill the gender roles, both by cultural structures and by the families in which they are born, grow and learn how to become a woman, many women have tried to offer resistance, defying social impositions. When critical thinking is activated, possibilities for change arise, cogs get off the wheel, creating other patterns, another culture, another world, and being the protagonist of a process of social rupture, is painful but at the same time pleasant.
We will continue to hold various artistic experimentation workshops with women during the months of October, November and December. We invite everyone who wishes to participate, as we are convinced that we all have much to contribute. The conclusions for this process of reflection and recollection of images will be displayed in the civic center of Trinitat Vella, from January 9th to 31st , in Barcelona / Spain.