Female Jesus of the photographer Margareta Kern
By Miljenko Jergovic for Jutarnji List, Croatia, 29.05.2008
Contrast: Artist Kern has confronted the photographs of the graduation girls from Banja Luka with the images of older women with their clothes for death.
In the two separate spaces the artist has exhibited photographs of the young women in their graduation dresses and the photographs of the older women in the clothes in which they will be buried.
ItÕs a case of two separate series of work, which only in the mind of the viewer come together as one exhibition. The graduation dresses were made by the artistÕs mother, Anica Glišić, who has opened an informal tailoring salon in her flat, in Banja Luka. The girls come to her with the pictures taken out of the magazines, showing the dresses they would like to wear, and she copies, adapts and cuts patterns. This is the way that copies and interpretations of the designer dresses are made, in which, according to the townÕs customs, the graduates stroll in front of the department store ŌBoskaÕ.
Margareta Kern has photographed those girls in their homes; in the photographs behind them one can see teddy bears, 80Õs furniture, corner sofa settees as were fashionable twenty years ago. In this perfect Bosnian imitation of life, their dreams and interests are visible, and so are the values of a transitional generation, and the effects of the war, a loss of contact with the world and a loss of possibility to get out.
In the other series, which are paradoxically, lighter, the photographs illustrate and comment on an unusual custom, still alive in the most parts of the Balkans, whereby the older women for years prepare their clothes for death. The artist also photographed them in their homes, in the rooms which were often filled with the religious iconography, so that they almost seem like small churches or places where death completely naturally exists and lives everyday. Kern photographed the women in Bosnia & Herzegovina, and Croatia, Catholics and Orthodox. Most of the photographs are filled with strong colours and marked with a certain kind of living chaos, with hundreds of details opening up many different spaces within, so that their aliveness is shocking given the reason and the concept therein.
While the first part of the exhibition suggests a search for an identity, or at least some form of an imitation of an identity, the other suggests a confirmation of a strong and undamaged traditional identity, something that survived wars and death, which still gives those who follow it some sense of security and peace. And if we were to expand on this, we could say that Margareta KernÕs women are insecure in life and confident in death.
The exhibition ŅClothes for Living & DyingÓ is a work of a young woman, from Banja Luka, who in 1992, without having her own graduation, fleeing the war, immigrated to the United Kingdom. She stayed there, finished her education and formed views on the world, and her own identity.
But, as a person canÕt become something else, without ceasing to be what they already are; in other words, itÕs impossible to erase identities, instead one can layer them one on top of the other, in the way the women layer their clothes for death. In that same way, Margareta Kern, by being in her motherÕs tailoring salon, and photographing in the Banjaluka homes, has done a very important self-reflective act. The imitation of life, which she captured through the graduation dresses, is in fact, in the broadest possible way, an imitation of an identity. One cannot get rid of an identity, no matter how much one wanted, no matter how much one didnÕt need it anymore and no matter how much it seemed like an imitation.
In one of the photographs, taken in Orubica, in Croatia, a woman is sitting on her bed, in front of a cheap wall tapestry of the ŌLast SupperÕ. She is barefoot, her hands in her lap. Her head is in the place where in the tapestry picture sits Jesus Christ. We may have not even noticed that, were it not for the expression on her face, which is neither sad nor contemplative. She is neither posing, nor completely relaxed. She looks like someone who is waiting. That female Jesus in the photograph of Margareta Kern is one of the possible answers to the question why take photographs.