Who Do You Think You Are?

installation with plates and cups in porcelain and stone ware

Growing up in the rigid structure of rural post WW2 Austria, where my foreign-born mother and grandmother were considered outsiders, I questioned the “natural” order of society at a young age. As a child of mixed ethnic Germanic backgrounds, I did not look or dress in any way different from my classmates. However, I had the distinct advantage of being exposed to a second language and diverse cultures. Even though I did not learn to speak my mother’s tongue, hearing it provided me with a sense of a world that reached beyond the local valley. The traditional foods my mother and her “people” continued to prepare included dishes with spices that were not part of the local taste, and delicious ingredients that our neighbours would feed to their pigs. 

I chose to focus on the kitchen table as a form that suggests a safe and intimate domestic setting, at the same time as it hints at a deeply entrenched hierarchy through objects. My installation comprises a series of plates, bowls, platters and cups. Litho transfers, stamped textures and inlays bring together photographs of my mother’s family in their farm in Croatia and in the refugee camps in Austria. Plate decorations include patterns from their embroidery, and shapes of the women’s traditional head scarves. My “displaced” grandmother was not allowed on a public bus more than one time for wearing her scarf. I framed the photographs in the outline of the crest borrowed from their flag, substituting the symbols, but including the blue ribbon that represents the Danube. Imagery from the potato fields and symbols from playing cards on the cups establish connections between my parents in their farm work and leisure activities.

The installation aims to express my understanding of my mother’s conflicted identity, her longing for a faraway and long ago home, her sense of loss of birthplace and never quite finding her voice in a new place. The title refers to an insult that a classmate threw at my sister when they were in grade 3, “Who do you think you are? Your father is a communist and your mother is a ….. (ethnic slur).” The insult directed at my mother, who does not have any known Romani ancestry, points at how racist slurs are offensive, whether they are meant for you or not. It also demonstrates that post war Austria did not deal with hate directed against ethnic minorities or against those who resisted the Nazis. 

catalogue page, Voices, Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, 2022