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| clothes for living & dying |

September 5, 2008
Margaret Harvey Gallery, St Albans    September 12  – October 18
International touring exhibition by Margareta Kern.
A fully illustrated catalogue with essays by Pennina Barnett, Dr Alex Rotas, Matthew Shaul and Margareta Kern accompanies the exhibition.
Ana (Jennifer Lopez dress), Graduation Dresses series, 2006

Ana (Jennifer Lopez dress), Graduation Dresses series, 2006

Clothes for Living and Dying brings together two interrelated projects, raising questions and exploring the relationship of clothing to social, cultural and gendered constructions of identity.

Graduation Dresses is an ongoing project consisting of a series of photographs Kern takes of the young women, who have recently graduated from the secondary schools in Banja Luka, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their dresses, made by the artist’s mother, are based on images found on the internet and in fashion magazines of celebrities wearing haute couture dresses. Kern photographs the young women in their homes and through this engagement with their personal spaces captures that transitional journey from adolescence to womanhood, revealing both their maturity and vulnerability.

Liza (Donja Vrba, Croatia), Clothes for Death series, 2006

Liza (Donja Vrba, Croatia), Clothes for Death series, 2006

Clothes for Death (Odjeca za Smrt) is an ongoing research based project documenting women in Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina who prepare clothes in which they wish to be buried. Deeply moved upon hearing about this relatively unknown and quite private custom Kern set out to research it further. The resulting work intimately engages with the lives of women whose identities have been shaped by turbulent historical, political and cultural currents.

Mara (Orubica, Croatia), Clothes for Death series, 2007

Mara (Orubica, Croatia), Clothes for Death series, 2007

2 Comments leave one →
  1. September 6, 2008 12:26 pm

    Not only am I struck by the specific clothes the women have chosen for their burial, but I am also interested in their environments that appear to be heavily decorated in Christian iconography. It may be that religion is what keeps these women centered in times of civil war? And I am wondering if there are similar customs for Muslim women as well? If so, it would suggest that the custom is based in a shared culture rather than religion. A very interesting group of images!

    The Graduation Dresses reminds me of a group of photos I saw last night at the Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, NY last night. It was a group of pictures taken by Mary Ellen Mark called The Prom Series – . When looking at those pictures, I thought the teenagers looked like they were from another planet! This may be the best age of all to examine gender identity and formation. Thanks for posting this info on graduation dresses.

  2. September 7, 2008 1:24 pm

    Thank you Jan for your comments and interest.
    While I was researching Clothes for Death I found that Muslim women before the civil war may have prepared their death attire – in Islamic custom both women and men are buried wrapped in white sheets called ‘kafan’, after their bodies have been washed – nowdays the preparation for the burial is done within a Mosque so Muslim women and men don’t tend to prepare their death attire by themselves anymore (though one always can find exceptions to the rule).
    Clothes for death, seems to be a custom rooted in Christianity but also there are cultural and other influences (incl pagan beliefs) that have shaped it. For example, there are many beliefs in afterlife that are influencing funerary customs, which then influence what is set aside for ones death (or one could call it the funeral attire) – eg a belief that a dead person could come back and haunt the living so in some cases the feet of a deceased are tied – this translates into a custom for setting aside pieces of red string (though the women told me that this is merely decorative, to be placed on the feet and hands, but it would suggest that some time ago these strings were used for tying), which can be seen in couple of photographs especially in Cvijeta (Banjica, Bosnia and Herzegovina)
    I kept a blog during my project, which may be of interest:

    The images of Mary Ellen Mark are great – appreciated the link!

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