Her Wisdom, Her Wings
Her Wisdom, Her Wings features photographs taken by an extraordinary group of women from across Bosnia-Herzegovina who participated in a photovoice project during the summer of 2016. The photographs and accompanying narratives* highlight stories of women's resilience and strength, and their contributions to positive social change in their families and communities.
Transforming cameras into tools for storytelling and resources for empowerment, this project supported 29 women to document and express their stories and visions for positive social change. Each photographer was invited to select one of her images to include in a public photography exhibition held in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina in August 2016. Women selected photographs which they felt best captured the most important dimension of their experience they would like to share with the broader public, featured here.
The collection of photographs and narratives which comprise Her Wisdom, Her Wings endeavors to elevate the voices of Bosnian women, using photography to invite scholars, practitioners, policymakers and community members to learn from the wisdom Bosnian women have to share with future generations about how to survive war and work towards peace.
* Workshops were conducted in the local language with the support of a Bosnian research assistant who is highly proficient in both English and Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian (BCS) languages. To the best of our ability, the narratives/captions presented reflect the voice of the women interviewed, but due to the nature of interpretation, are to some extent, constructions of the interviewee, the research assistant and myself.
Strong Woman, Strong Water
During the war I made a dangerous journey that involved crossing enemy lines in order to reunite with my child who was separated from me when war broke out. I returned to my village from Germany during the most dangerous time of the war, driven by motherly instinct to be with my young child. I hoped that with the end of war my life in Bosnia would improve, but it only became filled with new challenges. Limited resources and destroyed infrastructure made the lives of many Bosnian women very difficult. This photo demonstrates an unbelievably difficult period in my life when I didn’t have running water in my house and had to fetch water from another neighbor’s house in the village. For several years after war everyday I had to carry all the water for household needs on my body.. Finally, after waiting for years for the government to provide the infrastructure needed to connect water to my house, I decided to sell my pension benefits I had earned while working in Germany in order to bring running water to my house. I am very proud of my resourcefulness and ability to find solutions to challenging situations like this one with water. Because of this experience, I recognize water as the precious resource it is. In my daily life, I take serious efforts toward saving water, protecting the environment, and engaging my community in keeping our village clean. Although the challenges I have faced in my life were sometimes scary and dangerous, I am a wise woman and have used my wisdom to overcome them.
Different in Religion, Same in Love
This piece of artwork was drawn by one of the children that attended a youth camp where I volunteer every summer. This camp brings together children from places across Bosnia-Herzegovina, from various ethinic and religious backgrounds. The goal of the camp is to provide an opportunity for children to get to know one another and to foster a sense of community among youth that expands beyond divides. I am inspired by my work with youth in BiH, they give me hope for the future and help me believe that peace is possible. As a woman, a mother, and a grandmother, I feel compelled to promote peace and love through my work and volunteer activites. I am proud to be an example of a successful independent acitivist in my community.
Symbol of Endurance
I was a young girl during the war. One day a mortar exploded outside my house, sending shrapnel through my body. I didn't know the pain of life until the physical pain of this injury. I haven't seen this scar in a long time. I have avoided looking at it because is reminds me of a time I was dead and woke up, a time of great suffering for me and my family. Looking at the scar now, I realize it is also a symbol of my strength and willingness to survive. I hope this picture will inspire other women to keep their heads up and to keep going forward. Life is not always easy, sometimes you laugh and sometimes you cry, but we must keep going.
High Above Everything
After being evicted from an apartment the State had provided, I had to find a way to buy a piece of land, built a house, and begin a new life, all as a single mother with my two children. I planted this pear tree when I moved to my new home. As you can see, it rose into skies above the rooftops, weaving past other trees to seekthe sunlight it needed. That process best describes struggles I had to go though to rise above in search of my own light in life. Life is very difficult for women who lost their husbands in the war. It’s difficult to fully recover after the war. For example, because of the war I lost my job as an accountant. Regardless of countless job applications, I was never able to get back into that field. My biggest dream all those years after the war has been to have 9 to 5 job where I can apply my skills and be a productive member of society. Unfortunately, I live in a corrupt society where in a job search personal connection matters more than expertise. I will forever keep the thick stack of rejection letters I have received from numerous positions I have applied for. They are a testament to the unbelievable effort I have put into trying to restore my life Despite all of these challenges, I have managed to build a home of my own, a peaceful life, and raise wonderful, highly-educated children.
Symbol of One Woman’s Faith and Creativity
My handiwork means a lot to me. This picture represents a sign of my dear religion and a creative practice that keeps me going. When I take a needle in my hand and start creating art, I forget about stressful things. Handicrafts really brought me back and helped me forget about everything that was pressing me for a long time. What’s beautiful about this hobby is that you can do it in company of other women. Many generations of Bosnian women have met in the evenings to knit and crochet together, and I am happy to be a part of that tradition. Many Bosnian women face challenges in their families and marriages that only other women can understand, so the time spent together knitting and talking is truly therapeutic and a source of great support.
Home Sweet Home
It is my life's dream to move into our new home. Our current house is old and damaged. We have received some donations to build a new house, which has allowed us to start construction. However the building process is very slow, because we do not have enough money to complete the project. Living in the old house is difficult, but the prospect of eventually moving to our new home gives me hope. Every woman deserves a nice house that she can turn into a beautiful home. War and a bad economy have slowed us down. Wherever you look you see people fighting for their dreams, so I continue to fight for my dream to have a home that I am proud of.
Life on a Chess Board
Life is like chess game. You must be strategic, because every move is important for accomplishing your goals. The goal of my life has been to triumph over negative things that have come my way. Those negative things include war, a bad economy, poor health, and dysfunctional politics. Defeating everything that prevents normal life is equal to saving the king in a chess game. I won the most important chess match of my life when I survived the horrors of war and led my community into a stable future. That victory made me into a skilled chess master and the peace advocate I am known for in my community.
Entrepreneurship Captured in a Photo
As a woman, it is empowering to be able to financially contribute to my family. I started my own business raising livestock, which has been very successful and has created extra income that matters for our family. I am proud that I am skilled at taking care of all aspects of raising cattle, I even grow the food they eat. Before I started this business, I had partnered with other women to start a cucumber collective, but it required 12 hour days in the field. The labor was difficult and not as lucrative as raising cows. This new business allows me to work from home, with enough time left over to take care of the other needs of my family: cooking, cleaning, and gardening. I think other women could also be successful at this. It is a good business model that make sense financially and allows women to still be at home.
Life’s Biggest Success
This picture represents one of the biggest successes in my life, which came after one of the most difficult times in my life. This is a picture of the new house I built, and also the wooden shed I lived in for a year while my house was under construction. My life as a single mother from Srebrenica has been full of challenges. I survived Srebrenica, after which I escaped to Sarajevo, struggling to support my two children. In the years following the end of war, I was evicted from the apartment in Sarajevo which was given to me by the State. Although I had already begun construction on my new home, it wasn’t ready, so I was forced to live in this wooden shed with my children. However, this did not discourage me from fighting to build a decent home for me and my children. After a year of life in horrible living conditions, I managed to build a home that I can call mine. I am proud for being able to purchase my own land and build a house, so that my children never again have to live in a wooden shed. This house is also investment in my children’s future. If one day they stay without any money, they can always rent out one floor of our specious house. I know I have done great job taking care of and fighting for my kids and our survival.
Looking from Past Towards the Future
Although we may have faced difficulties in the past, in front of us there is always a door towards the future. I have fought my whole life to open doors that appeared shut in front of me and my family. I am proud to be a war survivor, and a returnee to my home town. I had to work very hard and endure a lot of pain to open all the closed doors in my life, but with every new door that I open, I grow stronger and more aware of my strengths. Thanks to those strengths gained though hard fought fights, I learned to take more time for my hobbies, to avoid people who don’t wish me well, and to remove patriarchal influences over my life. For the first time in my life my wishes and preferences are not ignored and silenced. For the first time in my life I am free to choose and lead my own life, and I am not giving that freedom away for anything in the world.
My Love for Beauty
I love beauty in life and I thrive to transform the gloomy into the beautiful. That’s why I have flowers on my balcony, grow a vegetable garden, take morning walks to enjoy nature, and maintain a community flower garden in front of my building. After being evicted from my old apartment, as a single mother with two children I worked very hard to purchase a new apartment. I wanted to make the place in front of my new home look beautiful. Therefore, I started the initiative in my apartment building to collect money to purchase roses and make the place in front of our building beautiful. This picture represents that beauty that I want to see in people and my environment. Women especially, have strength and the skills to transform darkness into beauty. gloomy into beautiful, If given the opportunity, they would be very successful politicians, doctors, professors, etc. I always make sure to vote for and support women, because women know how to make responsible and well-thought out decisions. We do this everyday as we manage our jobs, children, husbands, cleaning, cooking, gardens, and numerous other daily responsibilities.
Family and Your Own Job at the Center of Life
I have raised three successful daughters who have become wonderful young women full of love and care for other people. It was my life goal to raise children who have compassion for others; that is a value that my mother has passed on to me and her mother on to her. If we do not try to help others, we cannot expect good things to happen to us either. Besides my family, I also take a lot of pride in my job. I have been employed at the same place for 32 years. Not even the war stopped me from getting to work every day. It is crucial for women to have their job and income to feel valued and productive. If given an opportunity, I believe I could achieve wonders, because I am motivated, creative, thoughtful, and courageous. After surviving the war and raising my daughters in besieged Sarajevo, I became confident in my abilities to accomplish anything I set my mind to.
Leather Doesn’t Allow Mistakes
Every woman has inside of her something she loves. For me, my creative outlet is leatherwork. Before the war I worked with leather, creating shoes and clothing. After the war, I lived abroad for many years, but have recently moved back to Bosnia-Herzegovina and started working with leather again. You have to be very careful and precise about each poke of the needle, because leather does not allow any mistakes. My favorite thing to make is handbags and each one requires much care and attention. Every woman wants a unique handbag and my bags are one-of-a-kind creations, each made with love. The life of a woman is also one-of-a-kind creation designed through her actions and decisions. My decision to return to Bosnia after living abroad is a well thought through move that did not allow any mistakes, just like my work with leather. It was a right decision and I am happy I am here!
Longing for Loved Ones
My greatest joy comes when my grandson visits, he is the love of my life. He lives with his family in Germany, so I do not get to see him often. To keep myself busy, I make these plastic flowers, which relaxes me and serves as a hobby. It is very sad when someone that we hold so dear to our heart lives far away from us. I am constantly thinking about my grandson and our next reunion, and that keeps me going in life. Though I suffer because of his absence, I am happy for the opportunities he has in Germany. I want him to be happy and successful, and all I can say is that it is very sad that he cannot seek that happiness and success in our own country. Hopefully, one day things will get better in Bosnia-Herzegovina and our loved ones will return to live here with us.
This is a picture of my son who, thanks to my motherly efforts, survived the concentration camp at age 19. My son was imprisoned, starved, and ill for days at the Omarska concentration camp. His father also played a role in saving his life. After my son woke up from a coma his father, who was also in Omarska, took care of him. He was leading him in front of armed guards. The guard ordered: "let go if him". But he did not let go of him, instead, he risked his life and said: "I can't let go of him, he is my son". The guard decided not to kill them. A father's love for his son won against the evil in the guard. I was able to use a personal connection to send him 50 Swiss Francs, which eventually saved his life. My son came out of concentration camp weighing only 45 kilograms. This extraordinary struggle has motivated him to become a social activist. Today he is a successful man, full of care for other people. I am lucky that my son survived, but I will forever be saddened for the mothers whose sons never survived the horrors of Omarska. My story proves that women suffer at multiple dimensions during the conflict; we suffer as victims of direct violence and we suffer from pain of loses of our loved ones long after the conflict has finished. War is one of the most unjust things that can happen to women, and as a proud mother and a former teacher, I will forever advocate for peace between people.
My Alternative Medicine
Life has been full of challenges, but needlework and weaving carpets has been my medicine and my refuge. No matter what is happening in my life, I keep making beautiful pieces of handiwork. This is an art form for me and a source of income. My work can be found all over the world. Each of my creations requires a lot of concentration and precision. Some of the flowers I embroider require over 900 stitches, each of which must be counted. When you are doing this work, you cannot think about anything else, which is a very helpful activity when life is stressful. I am very proud of this work, and it shows that even those who have not been able to attend school can be very skilled in other ways and can make beautiful works of art.
Hard Fought Victory
I am a strong woman who fights for her family. These potatoes remind me of a period in my life when my husband was injured and I had to find a job outside the household to provide for my family. I took a job at a potato farm where I worked for several years. The labor was very difficult and the days were long. I would have to get up at 5 o'clock in the morning to get things ready for the day, prepare food for my kids and husband, get the children ready for school, and water the garden. Then I would spend the whole day working in the field, picking potatoes. I would return after dinner in the evening, and begin preparing things for the next day and tending to the laundry. This was a very difficult time in my life, but I am proud of my strength and of my ability to persevere. If you have a willingness and desire to succeed, even hard work like this is not too difficult. Today things are much better for our family and I am very proud of my role in our success.
Skills Lead to Success
This is not just a photo of a village woman milking a cow, this is an image of an adept woman of many talents. More than anything, it is important to me to be a productive contributor to my family and society. I am succeeding in that by raising livestock, keeping bees, growing food in the garden, and knitting handicrafts. There is no one formula for success and there is no reason why I wouldn’t test every formula until I find the ones that work best for me. Life circumstances in this country force women to be innovative and crafty. Those that don’t fear testing their ideas and seeking new opportunities will be most successful. You don’t need to be wealthy to be successful. You are successful when you provide comfort and security for yourself and your family. I am in that sense very successful.
The Future Depends on Unity
For each of these dolls I have sewn a traditional outfit, which represents each of the major religious groups in Bosnia-Herzegovina. This picture represents the unity I would like to see among women, and the unity I hope for all people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. After all, we are all just women that carry a burden on our shoulders that only we can understand. There is a saying that women hold up three corners of the house, and men hold up one. That strength is something that Bosnian women from all ethnic groups have in common. I take a lot of pride in creating the outfits shown in the photograph because this is my chance to communicate how I feel about the position of Bosnian women in an ethnically divided state. Each woman is beautiful and unique, just like their traditional outfits, yet they carry common wisdom and the strength of generations of women before them. Like women who lived before us, we have to apply our wisdom and courage to overcome political turmoil that is affecting our safety and future. We, women, must send the example of solidarity, love, and tolerance, because that is what we are made of.
Unique Skills Make a Unique Woman
Making unique pieces like the one featured in this photograph is something I have loved my whole life. There are only a few women in the region who know how to make pieces like this. This creative practice relaxes my mind and helps keep me sane. It takes a certain personality to make complex pieces like this. You must have concentration and patience. You can't think about anything else, so this type of activity is helpful for managing stress. I pride myself on being a strong, self-sufficient woman that takes on new challenging tasks. Weather it is mixing cement to build a new walking path in my garden, using a chain saw to cut wood for winter, or lovingly tending to my flowers, each of my actions are filled with an interest and curiosity that does not know gender limits.
Things Worth Fighting For
This greenhouse represents my vision for my future and the future of my family. I have a beautiful piece of land and I hope to be able to plant even more crops, which I could then turn into a business. I did not have the opportunity to receive much formal education, but I am an expert when it comes to agriculture. This is something I know how to do, and am very good at. If presented with the opportunity to expand production, I would most certainly create a thriving business. I am a very courageous and persistent woman, and I am looking everywhere for the ways to expand this job regardless of my limited opportunities. All these years after the war my family is still trying to rebuild. We have succeeded in purchasing our own land and we are building our own home, an achievement that took a lot of fighting for. I know I have what it takes to win difficult fights; I have done it many times. I will similarly keep fighting until I find a way to turn this greenhouse into a woman-led business.
My Children, Myself
My biggest pain is my son who disappeared in the war. Not a single bone of his has been found yet. Families cannot find peace until their loved ones have been found and that is why the BiH government must make it a priority to find and identify the missing. Despite all the difficulties that I have encountered in the search for my son’s bones, I remain hopeful that I will find at least one of his bones one day. When you are looking for something lost you are under constant tension, that is what life has been for me since the disappearance of my son. However, I am a strong woman and a mother that will never stop searching for her lost child.
My Raspberries, My Future
These raspberries represent the hard work and pride of one Bosnian woman and are a symbol of brighter future. Having my own business is a long-term investment in my family. For me, this means that I do not have to work for anyone else and that no one can walk all over me just because they are paying me. Women from the villages who work in the fields for other people often have to put up with disrespectful managers and inhumane work conditions. Because of this business, I do not have to put up with that humiliation anymore. I have the power to make decisions and I am proud to be an example for other women and to inspire my children to also be courageous. This is the livelihood of my family, it is our bread, and I will fight for its success.
Led by the Sound of a Sewing Machine and Strong Women’s Intuition
Every woman should invest in a skill that can help her earn money. You can start small and build up, because when you have your own income you are free. I have learned that during the most difficult times, such as war, resourcefulness and creativity of women are the most enabling factors of progress and survival. Therefore, women should always remember that their strength moves mountains and should courageously explore their ideas and skills until they find something that works best for them. For me, that was starting my own business as a seamstress. These machines sing, they have sang for me my whole life. All I had to do was follow my intuition and invest myself into work that I always deep down felt was the right thing for me. I am very proud of the dresses I have created and the life I have built for myself.
My Job, My Refuge
This photo represents the uniqueness of every woman and the strength they have when they unite. This heart of different colors and a star symbolize the hands of women connected in unity. The knitting needles are the artistic tools of hardworking women and a symbol of an organization which gave me an opportunity for a new and a better life. After many difficult years I succeeded in addressing many problems in my life thanks to help of other women. My desire to make my life better is led by my determination to find a job that would help me achieve financial independence and enable me to support my children. A local businesswoman gave me a full-time job which helped me begin my new life with dignity. That job is my refuge and my pride.
Hobbies with Healthy Effects
My health is very important to me, and I am proud when I take time to do something for myself and my health. Women everywhere endure high stress in their lives, which can leave serious consequences on their health. I have recognized that doing garden work, tending to my cow, relaxing with my children, and spending time with close friends helps me feel better. This squash is a result of time and love invested in gardening, and time and love invested in a hobby that makes me feel better and healthier. Besides gardening, I have personally benefited a lot from spending time doing handiwork together with other positive women. Women can be great support to each other, and I would encourage any woman that is dealing with stress to look for a trustworthy friend or a support group of women.
My Special Place
We must take time for ourselves. If women don't find time for themselves, no one else will give us that time. In our culture, women have traditionally taken on many family, work, and household responsibilities that leave little or no time for self-care or the social needs of woman. For example, women cook, clean, raise children, take care of their husbands, help children with school, grow gardens, care for their elderly parents. These contributions are not always recognized and not appreciated enough. When my children were little, I learned how important it was for my wellbeing to take time off from everyday responsibilities to do something nice for myself. I was a better mother, wife, and a friend after I took an hour to do something for myself. It could be a visit to the lake, a walk in the woods, or simply reading a book somewhere quite. Whatever that may be for other women, I want to encourage them all to take breaks and find space and time that’s only for them.
My Fish, My Peace
These fish are one of many hobbies that I have and my favorite activity to keep busy with. There is something special about taking care of other living creatures that brings hope and happiness into my life. War has been an extremely difficult period for many of us and many of us had to start our lives anew. Many of us had to create new homes in the new places. In spite of these challenges, I was successful in recreating a life that resembles the life I had before the war: a new house, good health, peace within myself, and love for life and other people. I have always fought for this kind of normal life, a normalcy that was disturbed by the war. These fish represent the harmony that I sought for myself and my family all those years following the war. When I see my family, my house, my garden, my fish, and my friends, I know that I have succeeded in recovering from the war.
Beauty of Growth and Resilience
I grew up in the suburbs surrounded with flowers and nature. Flowers symbolize for me growth and resilience. They remind me of us as people. Just like flowers we also start from a small seed, growing over our lifetimes. To survive, a flower needs to adapt to nature and the circumstances it finds itself in. We also need to learn how to survive in our natural environment, whatever it may be. For instance, I was fired from my job after getting married and becoming pregnant, and I was never able to find a job again. The loss of that job truly hurt me because I got fired for becoming a mother, a moment when I needed an income the most in order to raise my baby. Although corruption and personal favoritism in the job market left me unemployed, I always found a way to make some money for my family. Whether, I had to babysit or knit to make money, I looked for ways to do my best to be productive and helpful, and to adapt to a new environment. I am an adatpable flower!
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