Projects

 My personal projects bring me to unexpected places without and within. They allow me to discover new perspectives on life, on womanhood, on identity and spirituality. 

The Nun’s Path

A personal project exploring the lack of gender equality in Theravada Buddhism, the oldest and most traditional of the 3 buddhist branches.

In the eleventh century, Sri Lanka was conquered by the Colas of southern India, who destroyed the monasteries and eliminated the monks and nuns. In 1070, Sri Lanka invited monks from Burma to restore the order of bhikkhus, as Buddhism had disappeared in India by this time. Unfortunately there were no surviving orders of Theravada nuns anywhere to find. It was however rule that ten nuns were needed to ordain a new nun, and so ordination of bhikkhunis was no longer possible, and so there has been no fully ordained order of Theravada bhikkhunis since that time.

Nuns are called Dounji, in Cambodia, their status is far lower than that of the monks, since they are not ordained monastics, but simply laywomen who’s tradition began with older woman taking up residence in the temples to serve the monks, assimilating the rules, shaving their hair, dressing in monastic white cotton and living by the buddhist precepts.

To be a nun is not easy I learn, while visiting the group of 50 Cambodian nuns who live in the Andouck (turtle) pagoda outside of Battambang, Cambodia along with a group of 100 monks. 

While lay women’s support has been beneficial to maintain institutional Buddhism over the centuries, such valuable support has sadly been unavailable for the female path. The role of women in Theravada Buddhism has primary been to support the monks on their spiritual path, with money and food donations, and also  as servants, working as food-preparers, cooks, cleaners, gardeners, spiritual guides, teachers, carers, and so much more.

Not being allowed proper ordination has made it difficult for nuns to find guidance, wisdom and confidence on their path to enlightenment. Most buddhist nuns in Cambodia see their role as the servant, the humbleness demanded of them seems like a meditative practice, however, often I cannot help but recognize that this humbleness is not equally required of male practitioners. If the Buddha taught that the same path leads women and men to enlightenment, why than are women and men offered so very different paths? And why has there never been a female Buddha? I learn that a woman has to be reborn in a male body to have the chance to gain enlightenment. 

Lost World

These Photographs were part of a Film Project by Filmmaker Kalyanee Mam, exploring Cambodia’s disappearing Land which ends up building Singapore’s skyline. 

Copyrights belong to both Kalyanee Mam and Mona Simon. 

We don’t need husbands!

This Project brought me to Lugu Lake, high in the Tibetan Himalayas where the leading role in the society is not taken by men, like almost all over the world, but by the women and especially by the mothers of the community. These leadership roles are not only seen within the family structure and decision making, the women of the Mosuo community in fact take on many of the more labour intensive responsibilities. During my time here I have gained an unparalleled respect for these women and the way in which this ‘unorthodox’ minority, consisting of a population of 50,000, have lived for thousands of years.

The Mosuo Women work harder than man, they take all responsibilities on board and share them with their family. Mosuo culture tend to trace their lineage through the female side of the family, therefore every child remains in the mothers family. The role of the biological father who normally does not live with the child’s mother is not regarded as important as it is in our society. Raising children without the biological father is no reason to feel sorry for, in fact it is normal.

However when a newborn child turns 30 days old the Mosuo people celebrate not just the birth of a new family member but also the relationship between it’s parents and a link between their families. In the first 30 days of a child’s life its biological Father would stay day and night with the child and his ‘wife’. From then on their relationship will return to be a walking marriage, which means the man will visit his wife at night and return back to his own family during the day, for which he feels responsible for.

This means it will mainly be the uncle who would be the father to his nieces and nephews and which he would consider as his own family members or children. Despite the fact, that the Chinese government have in the past tried to force these people to adapt a patriarchal way of life, which meant they were forced to get married and leave their mothers, the Mosuo have always kept and defended their traditions – but now everything seems to change. These days the Chinese Government have recognised this unique culture and now try to make a business from it. They have started buying the land from the Mosuo people and have already begun to build a touristic infrastructure including streets, hotels, billboards and even an airport is planed to attract Tourism from all over the world to witness the unique way of life of this matriarchal Minority. This means though, that it is just a matter of time before their traditions and way of life will fade due to the influence of money, globalisation and the touristic impact.This is happening already as these photographs show. It is sad but already visible that some of the Mosuo People have adapted a western way of life, and now exhibit their traditions more for the tourists and visitors rather than for themselves.

Like hundreds of traditional societies around the world, they too seem to lose their heritage from this capitalisation, not yet conscious that this will irreversibly cut off the bond to their past and their cultural identity. Ironically in this case the Chinese government want them to keep their traditions which can only fail when selling them a dream of a modern lifestyle.

The Land of Revolution

In 2006 towards the end of my BA in digital Media I decided to spend my semester abroad in Cuba. I brought a beautiful 80 year old Rolleiflex and a few medium format films with me, not knowing much about the camera nor being able to develop the negatives while there, I allowed myself to simply explore and observe, connect with people and learn about life in cuban communism. Having grown up myself in Romania which  was communist too at the time, this journey became significant for me to remember my past in some way.  The Project turned into a Book and a short film. 

Interview with the well-known Cuban writer Angel Santiesteban / 2006

Do you think socialism still is working?

Angel Santiesteban: Of course not. Socialism ceases to function the moment it loses its democratic character. No man is prepared to receive “the power.” After five years as the highest boss, one cannot avoid turning into a leader. The power is like the fruit

of the forbidden tree: having tasted it, it is impossible to live without it and there are no limits to obtaining it. Jose Marti, Cuba’s most knowledgeable man of all time, said that socialism is modern slavery. Socialism has not been able to eliminate the social and racial class differences. The moment there is a hospital for government, the quality of which is significantly better than the quality of a hospital intended for the people, you begin to accept the difference. A man cannot rule a country like his private finca.

Is it human nature to compare or that Needing to be better or more ambitious than others?

Angel Santiesteban: Although human nature may be mistaken, the motor of any society is ambition and the pursuit of one’s dreams. Without material and spiritual stimulation, the human being ceases to be. The difference among people should be based on their mental ability, their education and their perseverance and not on their ideals or their political affiliation.

Which is naturally the intention of man: the
best conditions for himself or for his company strive for?

Angel Santiesteban: I believe that both intentions coincide, after all the individual benefits from the prosperity of society, so indirectly he prefers it. However, it must be assumed that the person has their own personal interest, i.e. a realizable wish. The utopias are beautiful, but a society cannot rely on them. The material benefit that man receives from society is his bounty. By informing and rewarding him, society sustains its economy. Consequently, man pays for his realizable and unrealizable dreams with the wages he receives from society, and so we can continue thinking about our utopia. After all, as the late Cuban writer Onelio Jorge Cardoso would say, “Man is always doubly hungry, spiritual and material”. However, when you have one, the other is missing. The two complement each other. Obtaining both is difficult, maintaining balance is essential.

Memories of a beloved Place

When the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and changed the world, an indirect and largely unknown consequence of this event took place, the disappearance of a central-European minority – a minority that Mona Simon belongs to. The Transylvanian Saxons are a German population group living in what is today Romania. . Over the course of the centuries this region first belonged to Hungary, then Austria respectively to Austria-Hungary, finally becoming a part of Romania in 1918.

1990. Mona Simon is ten years old. In this Year almost all Saxons leave Romania, approximately 850 years after their arrival, migrating “back” to Germany.

A whole people collectively decide to virtually disappear. 

Mona’s work deals with exile and remembrance and takes place in the midst of an individually, as well as collectively painful context – that of the vast disappearance of a nation. To give this work the title of a Tchaikovsky piece „Memory of a Beloved Place“ alludes to the 19th Century nostalgia of a paradise lost, a paradise in Eastern Europe which the artist sets out to find some 20 years later. Her approach can not be anything but clearly different, as the means of expression are when comparing photography to music or even poetry, such as Baudelaire’s poem „le vert paradis des amours enfantines“(“The green paradise of childlike loves”). Language and music can breath new life into the past world, yet memories cannot be photographed. At most, the origin, the place, where the memory was formed, can be shown in its present materialistic state and the souvenir is embedded in this reality. Photography as such, therefore, demands and cultivates a permanent dialectic between memory and reality.

Caldarari – Transylvania‘s traditional Gypsies

Romania has the largest proportion of Gypsy people in the world. It’s estimated that two million people or 5-10% of the population are Roma. Romania joined the EU in 2007 but many gypsy customs are outside of EU regulations working on hundreds of years of tradition and ritual.

My Project shows the Caldarari gypsies, a community who has settled down on the brink of a former saxon village in Transylvania. They have built enormous houses to demonstrate their wealth to the rest of the world but also to each other. Every Caldarari has the surname Caldararu which means tin or coppersmith. The Caldarari work in the same handcraft since many hundreds of years, they make their money from forging buckets, kettles, pots and boilers for distilling alcohol.

Like many Gypsy Communities the Caldarari live in a rigorous patriarchal society, property will always be inherited by sons and childhood engagements ensure that their children remain in the caldarari community, therefore girls usually leave their families in a young age to get married to the son of an adequate Family. School education does not mean a lot to them, as the most important value and foundation of their culture is to be good in their traditional hand trade, which they won‘t learn at school but from their families, as they say.

The missing Code

The Missing Code is an artistic project which stems from the encounter between two personal itineraries, of the photographer Mona Simon and the writer and gender expert Cova Alvarez.

18 women, 8 Cambodian and 10 foreign, have participated and shared the stories of their life journeys.

The result is a collection of constructed self-portraits and poetic texts, inspired by the interviews that create a map of life pathways, choices and self-perceptions.

We will understand who woman are, when the world stops telling them who they should be.
Rosa Mayreder, (*1858-1938)

The Dignity Project

MEN ARE LIKE GOLD,
WOMAN ARE LIKE CLOTH.

A common traditional saying
in Cambodia, meaning that gold can be washed clean of dirt while never losing its value, but cloth will always bear stains. The scars and bruises from the past merge into the skin of a golden canvas highlighting and visualizing the beauty and resilience of each woman beyond a broken victim’s lost faith and despair from humiliating domestic violence.

Selfemployed in Phnom Penh

There is much to learn form other cultures and their creative way to make a living
During the 7 years I spent in Cambodia I mostly enjoyed the connection I could experience with the people around me. Something I was not used to, coming from a much colder european background.  The Ladies at the market, where I would buy my daily fresh fruits and veggies, would quickly remember me, and get concerned when not showing up for a few day, the Tuk Tuk driver next door, would call me by my name, the street vendor where I get my coconut would genuinely ask how I was doing,  the massage lady, the hairdresser, the nail lady, the backed- Banana Lady and her 2 small girls, the flower lady, the mango-shake lady an many more,  all would become part of my life and I felt like I was part of a community.  I feel deeply grateful for this beautiful connection and have learned a lot from their inspiring attitudes towards life. 

Portraits

I see you, I care about you and I want to see you again, in a work of m y own.

Most of my projects focus on Portraits, here are a few images, which were not part of a project but simply a reflection of a person in a moment of time, some were commissioned by magazines, others made out of my own curiosity.

Wild without wilderness

The love for all living creatures is the most noble attribute of man. Charles Darwin 
Growing up on a farm in Transilvania was the most beautiful palce I could imagine as a child. The connection I was able to develop with animals was at times closer than with the humans. I would sit next to the Pigs and listen to their chattering and imagine what it was they were talking about. My Dog was my best friend, the Mother Geese hated me, the goats loved me, the cow used to look like a mother … there was a natural relationship between us and I noticed early in my life that each animal had an individual expression and own character. As a child I sometimes wished I had had a camera or a recorder to capture them.