(L)ENDING LINES & MATRILINES

 

 

‘’As viagens são os viajantes"

"Travel is the traveler"

(Ferdinando Pessoa, The book of Disquiet)

 

(L)ending Lines (2012) and matrilines (2015) describe two journeys unfolding along the subtle line that separates exploration from introspection, discovery from displacement, escapism from reality.

 

I’ve decided to take a double trip to Asia, first to India and then to Indonesia, intending to explore those societies where a condition of exclusivity reserved to women exists. In both cases the apparent privilege hides a complex system of social implications and cultural contradictions, which defines a precise role for women within the societies they live in. Exclusive is also my point of view as a western woman, foreigner and tourist. When I travel to Asia I am immediately placed in an idealized space of exoticism. This ‘privilege’ is also ambivalent, both flattering and alienating, it draws a parallel intimate journey, which overlaps and alternate to the actual travel.

 

(L)ending lines is a ‘travelogue’ tracing  a journey which takes palce within the restricted and transitory spaces of women only train carriages and metro compartments in India. Ladies Special trains were introduced in India to protect women commuters from a growing number of violence and harassment on their way to work. Accompanying women on their daily route to work I embarked on a personal excursion into their world, exploring their dreams, hopes, fears and expectations and comparing all those self-imposed ideas which we strive to live up to.

My trip took place along the railway lines connecting the city center to the outskirt, within the time frame of those few minutes of journey which separate women's private dimension of being wives and mothers from their public status of urban workers. A transitory space faraway from the rules and conditionings regulating their lives. Indian government ‘has lent’ to these women a few minutes of freedom every day through the institution of an ‘exclusivity’ that has the bitter taste of ‘exclusion’ and ‘non-belonging’.

 

matrilines is a journey to the villages of Western Sumatra (Indonesia), into Minangkabau houses' private spaces where matrilineal tradition survives and mixes with Muslim religion.

According to Minangkabau tradition the house and land belong exclusively to women and they are inherited through the female line. The animistic origin of this tradition privileges women as mothers. With the Dutch and Muslim colonization the Minang belief has been gradually influenced by both Islamic thinking and western culture and it’s now strongly attached to Muslim religion.

This time my journey took place on board of a motorbike guided by a local man, who drove me to the most remote villages of the region, into Minangkabau women’s houses.

Contrary to (L)ending lines, in matrilines men are the narrators. Since my arrival in Sumatra they had been the ones verbally tracing the contours of a complex culture which combines the Minang traditional respect for women with an Islamic conception of the female role. Women are tightly bounded to their privilege of ‘exclusivity’ that in this case has the bittersweet taste of ‘belonging’ while carrying an heavy sense of responsibility. Women are confined within the domestic walls, portrayed in the meditative repetition of their day-to-day activities, wrapped in their inscrutable silence.

 

The city in (L)ending lines and the countryside in matrilines are not simply a landscaping counterpoint to the journey inside the houses and train carriages. The city and its expansion due to the economical reform, on one side, and the countryside wrapped in the permanence of its traditions, on the other side, are the indirect causes lying beneath the exclusivity dedicated to women. The landscapes photographed at the end of the metro lines in New Delhi and Mumbai and the luxuriant nature hidden by the smoke coming from the burning forest in Sumatra, are mapping a contemporary social political and environmental geography. In both cases they represent the background of my research, while tuning to an internal personal narration. The journey becomes therefore that subtle line that links the ‘inside’ with the ‘outside’, that goes through the physical space in order to reconnect with the intimate one.  It travels along the cultural distance in the ambiguous exclusivity of being a foreigner/stranger who walks along the subtle confine between ‘belonging’ and ‘not belonging’ in search of conceptions and ideals of freedom in which confronting and recognising oneself.

O t t a v i a   C a s t e l l i n a

photography