Updated: Mar 31
"I think the handwork economy is still one of the greatest untold stories in the fashion industry, and the role of women, more broadly. These aren’t just aesthetic decisions—they’re political and evocative of the world we live in.” - Andrew Morgan, the director of film "True Cost"
Throughout the world, there appear to be manifold of patterns that repeat and reappear, sometimes under the influence of one another, sometimes completely independent in different cultures and under different circumstances. One of the realms in which one can observe the pattern is the realm of material and non-material heritage, the realm of traditional dresses, cuisine, songs, ceremonies and everything else that gives a certain place, a certain group of people their character, colors, taste and smell. Simply, all of those things that make place a home. The pattern that repeats in this specific realm is that often this realm is under dominion of women, which would of course, make sense since this realm is the realm of the domestic practices. But this womanly realm did not only keep the home, make the home, they with time and observance created an entire microcosm. This microcosm, unlike the great, unfamiliar and often dangerous world offers the opposite, it offers smallness but in its smallness, offers familiarity, safety and comfort. We live in a time when more and more people feel homeless, not only within their countries or cities, but within the four walls of their own dwellings. And without a home, it seems that almost everything feels pointless. For what to defend, what to earn fortune for, where to come back to after fighting the world? Wasting resources and energy on yet another meaningless consumption seems to be a logical conclusion to such an uprooted, isolated and homeless existence. This is not to suggest that women are to be forced back into domestic role or that life focused elsewhere is wrong, but rather to explore, how and in what way, given the circumstances, the home can be returned and rebuilt. It is only the women who have the ability to make it happen.
Two to three years ago, I invested a great amount of time in researching, reading and translating the folk songs of Eastern Europe, particularly those created in Slavic languages. The initial reason was purely what I could call, anthropological curiosity - I wanted to see whether there were similar motives in folk songs of Eastern, Western and Southern Slavs. In order to study this deeper, I self-learned Ukrainian and Russian, my native language being Slavic, it allowed me to understand West Slavic languages as well, also I could understand the small Ruthenian languages such as Rusyn, Lemko or Hutsul. I also read ethnographic articles and books about those. And indeed I could find and read about similar themes, even emotions expressed or the type of tree that is mentioned in the songs. The black or green eyes, rusa (light brown/dark blond) hair, linden, willow and maple tree, the secret meetings in the night, a daughter lying to her mother about the reason of her sleepless eyes and unbuttoned blouse and many more were all the topics I could find across folk songs written in Slavic languages. Slavic languages are heavily gendered languages in a sense that verbs, adjectives, pronouns, numbers and almost any other grammatical category has to go under the change depending of the gender it is in. What I observed was that most of these songs were written in feminine gender, that is, from a perspective of a woman. Such songs are an entire category of their own called "maidenly songs". There were of course songs written from male perspective but female perspective was dominating. In those songs, a maiden often complains to a tree, to a rose of her heartache, describes an argument with her mother, a secret meeting with a boy she likes. The lullabies and wedding songs were also one of those with heavily feminine perspectives - this time married women or older women describe their lives, sorrows and hardships. I spoke of this because folk songs play a huge rule in the cultural identity of almost every Slavic ethnicity or nation (although I am sure it applies to other ethnic groups or nations as well). In the same way that a traditional song plays a huge role, so do the fairy tales, the food, the embroidery or the clothes. All of these appear as a manifestation of centuries, millennia of transmission, of knowledge and skill. They translate local myths, folklore, symbols and ideas into fabric, into meals, into dances, songs, hairstyles. It brings familiarity and sense of home not just because we were brought up surrounded by it but because there is a spiritual ancestral heritage that is given. And just like I gave example of folk songs that were largely the realm of womanly art, so was cooking, so were dances, so was sewing. Once we forgot of it we all started wearing the same clothes, eating the same foods and dancing the same dances, all of them often disconnected, empty of value and substance.
Grandmothers, Mothers and Daughters
"If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. The more a daughter knows about the details of her mother’s life - without flinching or whining - the stronger the daughter." - "The Red Tent", Anita Diamant As someone who enjoys following social and cultural trends, I of course did notice a trend of femininity. What sparked my interest even more is that I noticed similar ideas come from many directions, I've seen it in traditionally religious women, I've seen it in New Age ladies and I have seen it among women who tend to be interested in a more traditional rather than New Age metaphysical and esoteric teachings. As it appears within different circles, it is certain to say that women are seeking the answers to questions of what it means to be a woman, to be feminine in a post-industrial world? I have also noticed a growing number of young homemakers, who have realised that office, pay check or title is not the only path towards a meaningful life. All of these ideas, thoughts are indeed valuable but I often felt that there was one tiny detail lacking in this picture and that is the sense of connection and roots. It lacks the deep sense of wisdom and knowledge that I had seen in every woman I came to admire and see as an inspiration. If femininity is defined by passing trends, by such things as stoves and aprons, that femininity is a passing trend as it is rooted in the form rather than in the source. I have said that the realm of folklore, which includes local cuisines was womanly, but it is not simply because they knew how to cook or sew, it is because they knew how to translate the deep abstract concepts into a form, into material. Without inheriting the abstract, without knowing the abstract, without having within yourself the stories, the symbols, the archetypes, without rooting itself in this, femininity is fragile. The connection with the feminine lineage is at the core of this. Mothers, grandmothers are the ones who transmit the wisdom and knowledge, if they transmit recipes, it is often with that little "secret" that is the key to the exceptional taste of her food. Through this lineage also comes the knowledge of herbs, of prayers, of male-female relationships, of what happens when you share bed with a man. My mother told me stories of her grandmother whom I never met, the paternal grandmother told of her own. They spoke of their lives and their character. Even though I have never met her, I bear strong image and connection to my mother's grandmother, who was of a very strong character, who did not have a single gray hair even into her old age and whose knee-length hair was always in a thick braid. I know of their lives, marriages, struggles even if I never met them. Because of these stories, I have come to know which herbs to use for headaches, which for irregular cycles, what food to eat for anaemia, what to put under my pillow in case of nightmares, what herbs to put in the water I wash my face with and what prayers or words to say at the moment. The experts or those who need empirical evidence for everything in the world may shake their heads, but still if I am to experience an irregular cycle, I reach for the herb and not for the contraceptive pill. I still eat certain food, braid my hair not just because I find it beautiful, but because it connects me to both something beyond me, but also a piece of me that has existed before I came into full form. If you are a woman, please seek for these roots and look out, even if your family has been in urban dwellings for a while - ask, read. Know your mother's, grandmothers' stories, connect to something deeper than performative acts, because it is not just to make home out of the room you live in, but to make home out of the piece of earth you live on, and eventually if everyone takes care of their piece of earth, the world will be taken care of too, the world will be a home too.