Why is feminism not rising in Indonesia?

Targeting images of women
Justyna Koeke's dangerous pink

The German-Polish artist Justyna Koeke brushes femininity against the grain. But why does she send old ladies onto the catwalk as fairytale princesses and attract love-hungry men via Tinder to take part in their photo sessions?

When the parents had to move, Justyna Koeke came across a pile of children's drawings while packing. She was shocked. Because she and her five sisters had almost exclusively painted princesses and saints. "Those are the roots, that's how girls are brought up," says Koeke bitterly, "if a woman is not beautiful, she must at least be good."

Justyna Koeke, born in Cracow in 1976, has long since moved away from these roots and spends her days neither in church nor in pure beauty. If it is something, then it is absolutely indecent. The tall, dark-haired woman doesn't care much about the outside, but prefers to impress her counterpart with her uncomplicated manner. Friendly, affectionate and always energized. After all, there is always something to be done. She whirls through her huge studio, fishes a piece of fabric from the shelf here and stumbles over pillows with glued-on eyelashes.


Today Koeke lives near Stuttgart and does artistic projects that do away with traditional female role models, clichés and the cult of beauty. So she made the dresses of the princess pictures of her childhood on her little sewing machine - and sent old ladies with these wondrous disguises on the catwalk. The performance was even invited to the Alternative Fashion Week Berlin - a special experience not only for the cool fashion blogger scene, but also for the models, some of whom were well over eighty years old. "You are no longer perceived as a woman in everyday life," says Koeke, "in old age you become invisible to others."

  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "My idea was to implement the girls' dreams in such a way that the drawings come to life."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "The basis for the collection was about 20 princess pictures that I and my two older sisters painted as children."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    “There is a certain idea of ​​feminine beauty, of kindness, that girls are taught when they are little. And they paint them. "
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "I sewed for half a year for the whole collection, that was 20 costumes."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "Girls paint an idealized world, of princesses or whatever is fashionable, that changes from generation to generation."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    “I chose older women as models. The contrast is even stronger with older models because they also embody life experience. "
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "What does it look like when women at the end of their lives immerse themselves in this childlike imagination and check their role models or expectations?"
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "I wanted to span the entire life of a woman."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    “It was about women's roles, but also about the aging of women, about issues such as the invisibility of older women in our culture. You just don't look at them on the street anymore. "
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    “They are no longer perceived as women because the view of women is still totally sexist. I wanted to counteract this with these fancy costumes. "
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "It was of course a daring station wagon."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "But it worked well, they were almost like queens in these costumes, very dignified."
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    “I package my projects in a fashion character. present them as a collection. But I don't really do fashion. These are more like moving objects, portable sculptures. "
  • Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke
    "These fashion walks are a pure presentation, a fiction, you represent something. And certain moments in life are not shown."

Justyna Koekes' topic is presenting, representing and dressing up in order to critically question social expectations of women. She has a “mega-feminist claim” artistically, she says of herself. But she has also established that there is “no consensus” with regard to feminism and that her projects are also criticized by feminists, for example when she has a nude calendar initiated in which women had themselves photographed naked on construction sites. Once again women undress in front of the camera, scolded some feminists. Koeke wanted to show that a woman is “just a body”, not - as is so often conveyed in the advertising industry - sexy and provocative.

But mostly Justyna Koeke wraps women in fabric. She works at the interface between fine arts and fashion. She herself describes her collections as “wearable sculptures” and sends models onto the catwalk like at fashion shows. But they are decidedly artistic activities - and any fashion designer would tear their hair just looking at their studio in an old barracks in Ludwigsburg. The huge shelves are crammed full, the floor is littered with scraps of fabric and peculiar fabric objects, stuffed sausages, pink hearts or foam cakes.

Against the pink world of girls

With big steps the artist climbs over these mountains of gold, glitter, foils, cords, boxes. When she accidentally knocks over a cup of coffee, she wipes off the broth with a piece of pink fabric - and tramples, so to speak, on what is supposedly the happiness of every little girl: pink with lots of tinsel and glimmer.

Koeke was aware from childhood that she had less freedom as a girl. She grew up in a "very patriarchal family," she says. Her father was a despot - and she was outraged early on at the unequal treatment of women and men in conservative Polish society. When she studied classical sculpture at the art academies in Cracow and Warsaw, she was taught "as in antiquity" "by old men who inherit their style". In 2000, love drew her to Germany. While studying at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart, she was finally able to develop and negotiate the women's issue in concrete terms - “It was very free, wonderful.” Today she teaches at the Stuttgart Academy as a technical teacher in the media workshop.

Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke

There were pragmatic reasons for discovering fabric as an artistic material at some point. When her son was born, she had to relocate the art production to her home at home - and picked up the fabric because it was quick to work with and easy to transport. Freaks (2006) is the name of a photo project about motherhood in which idiosyncratic fabric objects seem to creep out of the artist or suck on her. Expression that a child draws energy from the mother and uses it for its own cell growth. Justyna Koeke says it openly that she was overwhelmed as a young mother. But admitting such a thing is socially "a taboo". She herself would wish the extended family back, "the family structure with father, mother, child is not ideal."

Fundraiser for prostitutes who want to get out

She is currently working on the subject of prostitution. “One would think that we are a progressive society, but I was appalled by what is possible here.” Justyna Koeke does not understand that even feminists support prostitution in Germany. "It is still normal for everyone when men can dispose of a woman's body for money." Koeke wants to make it clear that "that is not okay" and has therefore collected money through artistic projects for an apartment in which prostitutes can stay. who want to get out. In the future, too, she wants to deal with the subject of prostitution in her work.

Photo (detail): © Justyna Koeke

Justyna Koeke intervenes again and again in the middle of everyday life. "It is important to me that art is not exclusive to people in the art system, but that it is perceived more broadly." This is why she also auctions her old costumes or uses the material for new things. “I'm not attached to the works,” she says. And even if her performances take place in an art context and her photographs are exhibited in galleries, proximity to everyday life is important to her.

She once met up on a project with strange men she had met through the dating app Tinder. In the forest, however, the promised sex did not take place, instead the men were asked to photograph Koeke and her Finnish artist colleague Mimosa Pale in nature. The candidates took part. “They were very insecure, but they got involved.” It was a very nice experience, “so human”.
 

Justyna Koeke

was born in Cracow in 1976, studied sculpture in Cracow, Warsaw, Nuremberg and Stuttgart. She lives in Ludwigsburg and has been a lecturer in the textile media and performance departments at the State Academy of Fine Arts in Stuttgart since 2006.

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