Last year Senzeni Marasela created an art installation called Jonga: the Museum of Women, Dolls & Memories, in a shop-front in Huntly, Scotland. Here Marasela talks to Claudia Zeiske about Barbie and the ways that beauty standards and pressures impose differently on women of colour and white women
Claudia Zeiske: Senzeni, we invited you to come to Scotland to address issues of women’s self-perception, which are high on the agenda at the moment. You initially came up with a proposal to work with a group of women here. Can you remind us of your ideas before you came here?
Senzeni Marasela: I have been doing work on my mother’s dresses for a very long time. I use her dresses as a canvas and tell the story of her life. My mother was a woman of her generation. She was never expected to work or have ambitions that went beyond the gate of her home. Essentially she never had a voice, in a way I speak for her and myself.
I wanted to work with Scottish women and look at creating narratives on dresses. I was interested in their silences. Many obviously were silent through the circumstances of their lives. They were far from the independent women we see on television. They were dependent on someone, often either a social worker or the social services. My culture also encourages dependency amongst women. We were going to take their stories and weave them into dresses. The idea was they could wear them and people could look at their lives.
CZ: … dependency amongst women. Do you mean a network of support and friendship?
SM: I mean the dependency on men and the idea that you only have worth once you are married to a reputable man. After that you are forced into silence. Also because we are so gendered that we are groomed for specific roles, we see very few strong and powerful women. Women are not authors of their own experiences.