Paola Favoino | A JE BURRNESH

From 29/09/2016 To 29/10/2016

A burrnesha (plural burrneshe), also known as a sworn virgin, is a woman from a Balkan country, generally northern Albania, Kosovo or Montenegro, who adopts male clothing and is considered as male in society and recognised as such by the traditional law of those areas, the Kanun. Essentially, the Kanun recognises the same legal rights and duties for the women who choose the status of burrnesha that are traditionally attributed to males in patriarchal societies.

In the Albanian society of the past, a woman did not have the right to live alone. To do so, however, a woman could in certain cases modify her status before the people of her community, subjecting herself to a ceremony in the presence of the most influential men in the village (generally 12 male elders). During the ceremony, there would be a dressing and the cutting of the hair. The girl would also have to take a vow of chastity.

It is thought that the choice to become burrnesha was frequently dictated by issues associated with the death of the head of a family. In the absence of a male heir the need to avoid the loss of the family’s patrimony led some women to take on responsibility for the male role through this sworn conversion. However, there could be multiple reasons: the lack of male children in a family, the death of male family members, the girl’s refusal to marry or undeclared lesbianism.

Even though it is no longer practiced in Albanian-speaking countries, a large number of elderly burrneshe still live in the area. This photographic project (and successive short film) by Paola Favoino was born out of her frequent trips to Albania that in 2010 led her to meet her first burrnesha, Gjin, who is over 80 years old. Paola has this to say about her: “Gjin did not seem surprised by my visit; in fact, she welcomed me with a broad smile and a warm embrace. She is lively and full of energy. At her age she still devotes herself to the land and is the head of the family." Not all of the burrneshe accepted to be photographed, but Paola remembers all their stories, all of them different: “In some cases I was attracted by their mask, so heavy that to a careful gaze it hardly stood up, in other cases the care with which time had allowed the person to coincide with the character."

The protagonists of these photos are a number of sworn virgins who have made this sacrifice for diverse reasons and who today experience their “male” condition in very different ways. What brings them together is their solitude because despite being respected as “men of honour” and living in the midst of friends and relations, their free choice has cost them dearly as their status as “burrneshe” makes then inexorably “different” to both men and women.

A Je Burrneshe! is the greeting still today exchanged between women plucking up courage amongst themselves, hence the title of the photographic project and the exhibition of around 15 analogue shots taken from 2010 and printed by Favoino herself together with the short film that will be screened continuously for the duration of the show.

Art Exhibitions Turin

Contemporary Art Exhibitions Turin
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