The Women’s Center for Immigrant Women in Bergsjön, a suburb of Göteborg in Sweden has for over a decade provided aid for women from numerous countries with language and skills training to combat the trauma many have suffered and to help them integrate into their new society. This excellent center offers daily lunches for its members, and the children of immigrant parents attend the many activities during the holidays.
Zdenka Kalisky--an immigrant to Sweden in the late 60s originally came from the former Czechoslovakia--has been teaching handcraft skills that have focused mainly on needlecrafts for eight years at the center. She started with very simple knitting, crochet, and embroidery exercises to assess the experience and motivation of the women for this type of handwork.
When you stop to think about this project and the women who have joined, it’s amazing they have probably all come from very different cultures and backgrounds. Their journeys to Sweden may have taken them by very different paths, yet circumstances have brought them together as a group, giving them the opportunity to work together and learn about each other and their new country.
Although initially many of the women had little confidence in their abilities, as they developed new skills they have become more self-assured. For each piece made, each woman discovered she had something valuable to contribute to the group.
The women usually work within a theme. One of the first projects centered on the suburb where they all lived and show and describe its positive and attractive side. Zdenka helped them to design a piece, incorporating every aspect that each woman found attractive about Bergsjön. As the work progressed, so did the women’s motivation and commitment to showing the best face of ‘their’ suburb.
In 2012, the group was invited to join a project with the maritime museum Sjöfartsmuseum in Göteborg. The group was taken out on boat trips around the harbor, under the main bridges and on the city canals. They saw the giant cranes that lifted containers on and off ships in the docks, the maritime traffic that continually moves in the port, and they learned how this important commercial port functions.
The women used photographs taken during their visit as a reference point and discussed how they wanted to make a piece that would represent their interpretation of the port and its work. Twenty of the women chose one of the color photographs that would be their own reference for their embroidered piece for the wall hanging.
The finished composition of 20 pieces measuring 120x400 cms took several months to complete and was exhibited at the Sjöfarts Museum during the commemoration of International Women’s Day in 2013. The work is called “Kvinnornas Hamn” or Women’s harbor or port because although most of the port workers are men, it’s often forgotten that women also play an important role in the work of the port and this was the Bergsjön women’s way of recognizing their function.
In August 2013, the group was awarded a Culture Prize at the annual Cultural Festival in Göteborg. With their prize money, 15 of the women and three guides traveled to Budapest.
In November 2015 “Kvinnornas Hamn” was again exhibited for a month in the suburb of Angered. The group received invitations to show their collective embroidery in four new exhibitions including a venue in the centre of Göteborg, where it generated much interest from the over 1300 visitors who saw it. The work can now be seen at the Center; the women hope a buyer will be found for the various pieces.
And what does the future hold for this project? Well as with so many social projects in these days, that will depend on whether this self-financing center can secure funds to keep it going. Zdenka, a trained engineer in Czechoslovakia, but who spent 25 years as an accompanying wife, living in far-off locations such as Nepal, Libya, Zambia and Zimbabwe, used her creative drive to influence many people. She is a quilter who has exhibited in international juried exhibitions, and a skilled dressmaker and designer. Most recently, in Zimbabwe, she started a women’s group called Signature Books, making handmade paper books, albums, cards, packaging etc., and now, in Sweden, she shares this creative gift with a group of women of many ages and from very many different backgrounds – and they are now establishing their own reputation as creative crafters.
For more information, visit www.kvinnocenterbergsjon.se