The Women to Women Collective/ Žene ženama employs art to engage with women that were affected by war and displacement, and have found themselves living in Croatia. They regularly organize creative workshops that take place as part of “Living Atelier/Živi atelijer” in Zagreb. In this space they experiment with different crafts such as ceramics, sewing, glass, body-voice, and other arts, they learn and share skills and create collaborative work.
WtW aspires to collectively build a supportive community for migrant women and volunteer members.The round table in which women of Living Atelier/Žene ženama gathered for this discussion for the Bureau of Care, highlights what is of utmost significance here: care, empowerment & inclusion, creativity & skill. All members come from diverse backgrounds and carry their own stories and by sharing an understanding of each one’s nuanced differences they yearn to craft their own common ground.
Listening to the discussion between some regular members & volunteers of WtW one realises that the Living Atelier is a shared space of comfort, intimacy and love. The energy between the women gathered around the table and their emotional discussion transcends the notion anyone holds of a public “integration center”. It is clear that structure-wise, Living Atelier is more than just a co-working space, or even a collective: it is an ever-changing community based on relations that could be defined by terms of kinship. In this context, kinship describes community relations based on a type of empathy that is akin to a family-like structure. More often than not, members describe “Women to Women” as their family and portray “Living Atelier” as “their favourite place in Zagreb”, their “second home” or their “home outside of home”.
This community is assembled by continuous exchange and by active participation in creative group projects and discussions. These projects require time devotion, collaboration and efficient decision making: elements that are essential to the notion of collective care. Time is pivotal in ensuring the successful function of the collective. In order for everyone to be actively included in decision making processes, there needs to be time devoted to translation & interpretation since not everyone speaks the same language. Organization of meetings and participation, also requires a level of commitment by everyone. Cyrille, initiator of the Living Atelier, describes the aforementioned aspects as “all this work that happens backstage”. As there are no traditional hierarchical structures in the group, everyone has equal rights in expressing their opinion on crucial matters, such as the distribution of funds, acquisition of materials, collaborations and more. No member is obliged to participate in all the meetings or workshops, and it is accepted by all that some members are more regular than others depending on their schedules.
Care is shown in multidimensional ways, which for the group cannot be simply defined by technical or academic terminology: care is sometimes the mere presence of someone, an urgent phone-call, an attempt to translate what is discussed to multiple languages so that everyone can participate equally in a conversation, or by the practice of deep listening or the process of crafting together. Crucial is the fully horizontal inclusion in decision- making processes by discussion, email or voting.
WtW is not a closed community, but engages in collaborations with local artists in order to increase outreach and disseminate their work in wider publics. Furthermore, they cooperate with activist initiatives, in order to put pressure on public institutions to re-draft their migrant integration policies with intersectional feminist perspectives in mind. The activities of the group directly affects the lives of the participants as well: it provides them with tools that enable them to reconsider and negotiate several aspects of their daily life such as their children’s upbringing or their working environments.
Aiming towards a sharing of knowledges and mutual support the Living Atelier, according to Cyrille, is similar to a living organism, that constantly re-adapts to its environment and takes different shapes. It is thus dependent on human interaction that does not include traditional hierarchies: care is thus allowed to move freely between members, serving as a paradigm.
With thanks to WhW Akademjia, Živi Atelje DK and to everyone who participated in the discussion.