Carolyn Fryberger
Women's Work

From Fryberger's Statement:

Before being an artist, I am first a lover of people. Curiosity about people different from ourselves allows us to see beauty previously unknown to us. This past summer I was blessed to travel to Ghana for two months to volunteer in the village of Atabu in the Volta Region of Ghana, West Africa. There I worked with a women’s group called the Atabu Women’s Development Association. These women, ranging in age from 15 to 50, were learning to make jewelry and soap in hopes that these skills might help to alleviate the poverty they and their families struggled with on a daily basis. I worked alongside them, learning to make soap and do beadwork myself, and in the process gaining small glimpses of the opportunities and constraints of the life of a Ghanaian woman.

Over the course of my time there, I developed enormous respect for these women who work from before sunup to well after sundown. Each woman’s duties included domestic tasks of cooking, washing, cleaning, farming, and childrearing, as well as income generating tasks like teaching, selling goods in market, sewing, dying fabric, baking, or producing palm oil and other goods. Each one of these tasks is extremely labor intensive; making palm oil, for example, involves several rounds of boiling the bright red palm nuts over a charcoal fire, pounding them in a large mortar and then straining out the oil. Yet all of these tasks are accomplished with astounding speed and grace; I felt completely incapable next to these women as I would fumble with pounding the palm nuts to a chorus of “Oh! You are trying!”


In addition to these material contributions, women’s work in the social sphere of the village never ceases. The task of raising children is primary, yet so interwoven it cannot be separated from women’s other roles: children go with their mothers everywhere, and every woman acts as mother to every child in the village. Atabu is predominantly a Catholic community and women are essential to the religious and moral life of the village. It is their job to welcome a new priest as their own son, helping him with domestic tasks such as laundry. When there is a death they march through the streets in mourning, dressed in red and black, singing songs accompanied by rattles they make from gourds.
The photos on display here are meant to give some recognition to the women that I was so honored to have met this past summer, to highlight their amazing physical and emotional resilience. Far too often the news we see and hear of Africa, particularly with regard to women, is very grim: reports of warfare, poverty, and environmental destruction. This suffering certainly exists throughout Africa, however I found that alongside it is an unassuming and overpowering beauty. Beauty and suffering, inseparable even in our own lives of relative material comfort. Depending on your perspective of a scene you can choose to see either; here I chose to frame the beauty. This in no way downplays the suffering, rather I believe it recognizes the humanity and power in a group of people too often seen as victims. It shows that despite difficult situations, people persevere and seek ways to express their full humanity. In this way, recognizing beauty becomes an act of empathy.

Photos on exhibit October 2 - 31, 2007 in Ramsey Library's third floor gallery.
Opening reception October 4, from 4-6pm.
Exhibit is graciously sponsored by UNCA Multicultural Student Programs.

Updated 28 September 2007. Comments to the Library Web Team.

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