PHOTOGRAPHY

TEXT Lara Shaker, LEKTORAT Mercy Ferrars, FOTOS Davor Rostuhar

“We deconstructed some of our illusions” – Exploring love around the world

Artist
Davor Rostuhar and Andela Rostuhar

Year
2021

Country
Croatia / Worldwide

Format
Photography, Videography

Current Exhibition
December 4 2021 — February 20 2022 in f3 — freiraum für fotografie

Material
Print, Multimedia (Videomaterial of interviews)

Dimensionen
twodimensional

Cov­er: Nahid (34) and Nazanin (27), Iran. From the series Love Around the World. © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

In ear­ly 2019, Davor Ros­tuhar and his new­ly wed wife Andela embark on a jour­ney that leads them through five con­ti­nents, more than 30 coun­tries, and ulti­mate­ly, back to them­selves. The rea­son behind this spe­cial trip is the begin­ning of their rela­tion­ship: After propos­ing to Andela in Antarc­ti­ca, just before solo hik­ing to the South Pole as the first Croa­t­ian, Davor had visu­al­ized his new project – a year of trav­el­ing around the world, look­ing for all the facets of (roman­tic) love in people.

Davor (37) and Anđela (33) from Croa­t­ia were engaged in the Antarc­tic and decid­ed to spend a year after their wed­ding on their hon­ey­moon trav­el­ing around the world, explor­ing what love is and whether it is uni­ver­sal. “We won­dered if the two of us would have come to love each oth­er as much as we do if we’d been born into a dif­fer­ent cul­ture, in some oth­er time and space?” says Anđela. “Would our love have been the same or dif­fer­ent? Is love what keeps us togeth­er and cre­ates the illu­sion that we too will over­come all the prob­lems that will inevitably arise along the way? Is our rela­tion­ship sim­ply the out­come of a deci­sion, prac­ti­cal affini­ties, and the shar­ing of sim­i­lar val­ues? Or is some­thing more going on here?” From the series Love Around the World. © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

“The quest for love”

The couple’s jour­ney begins in their home­land, Croa­t­ia, and leads them through Oman, Sau­di-Ara­bia, to Iran and India, pass­ing through some of the remotest islands in the Pacif­ic, before set­ting off to Asia and cov­er­ing most of (South) Amer­i­ca and Africa. Over the course of 365 days, Davor and Andela col­lect­ed around 120 inter­views and many more pho­tographs. Some of these are exhib­it­ed in Berlin until the 20th of Feb­ru­ary 2022 in f³ – freiraum für fotografie. Look­ing at these pho­tographs, it becomes evi­dent that the feel­ing of love express­es itself on a spec­trum from beau­ti­ful whole­some­ness to per­ceived cruelty.

As the exhib­it shows, the ques­tion of love – per­haps one of the most fun­da­men­tal expe­ri­ences of human life — man­i­fests in very dif­fer­ent, some­times even con­tra­dict­ing ways: Through Davor’s work, one is being intro­duced to tra­di­tion­al het­ero­sex­u­al cou­ples who were cho­sen by their fam­i­lies for each oth­er; homo­sex­u­al or even trans­gen­der cou­ples that fight against present norms and for the a pri­ori right to be in love in the first place; cou­ples that involve a third, a fourth per­son, indi­vid­u­als mar­ry­ing themselves. 

!ui (40) and !ao (36) from Namib­ia belong to one of the old­est peo­ples on earth—the !Kung Bush­men. Until ten years ago, they led a hunter-gath­er­er way of life in the Kala­hari Desert. !ui had his eye on !ao for a long time and he thought about propos­ing to her. When he was ready, he crept up from behind her and shot a small arrow from his bow, which hit her on the but­tocks. !ao pulled out the lit­tle arrow and returned it to him, which, accord­ing to Bush­man cus­toms, meant she was con­sent­ing to his pro­pos­al. “I love my wife,” says !ui. “As I love my wife, I also love my kids. And as I love my kids, I also love aaaall the peo­ple. Even the peo­ple that I don’t know, I love. But I love my wife the mooost. I hug her, we hold hands, make love, and this way our love grows! If there was no love, there would be no life!” © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

“A specter of feelings”

What unites all these dif­fer­ent forms of a sin­gle emo­tion is the inten­si­ty with which they con­front the involved par­ties: Davor and Andela show us the impact love can have on a rela­tion­ship between fam­i­lies, what love inspires to, what it can give, what it can destroy. We learn about sto­ries that touch us deeply, while oth­ers – per­haps diverg­ing too much from what we have come to see as “love” – don’t res­onate with us. The pho­tographs do not only show­case love, but they also car­ry through the entire­ty of emo­tions on the human spec­trum: sad­ness, deep affec­tion, help­less­ness, resilience, anger, brave­ness, hope.

Although love is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a trea­sure ready to slip away at any time, and an asset con­tin­u­ing to grow over the years, it is evi­dent that love can hap­pen to any of us, at any time. After all, Davor and Andela inter­viewed cou­ples rang­ing from only five years old (the first love found in kinder­garten) up to lovers that recent­ly cel­e­brat­ed their 90th birth­days. With­out a doubt, this speaks for the many forms and shapes in which most of us can relate to feel­ings of love. See­ing lovers all around the world that dif­fer not only in lan­guage and cul­ture but also in tra­di­tions and reli­gions, there must be a con­clu­sion, a pre­cise def­i­n­i­tion to be made. What reveals itself as “love” when we strip down all the dif­fer­ences and try to seek answers in sim­i­lar­i­ties? Is there even a com­mon denom­i­na­tor of love? It is such curios­i­ty that drove Andela and Davor to turn their hon­ey­moon into a year-long trav­el plan, and it is that same inter­est that con­tin­ues to present itself when vis­it­ing “Love around the world”.

Kana (38), Iva (57) and Tume (62), Brazil “We hear white peo­ple say mi amor, mi amor, but we don’t say that. We don’t know what love is. There is no such thing here.” © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

“It takes more than love to love”

Cov­er­ing over 60 pho­tographs and a behind the scenes film doc­u­ment­ing the jour­ney and inter­view­ing process, the exhi­bi­tion lets us in on the back­grounds and frame­works of (suc­cess­ful) rela­tion­ships. It reflects hap­py faces, sad faces, can­did pic­tures, and soul-touch­ing expres­sions back to us, while forc­ing us to con­tem­plate our very own bonds. If love is not the absence of prob­lems, but rather the process through which hard­ships can be nav­i­gat­ed then what can we learn from these peo­ple? Is love a choice based on mutu­al respect and good-will or the spon­ta­neous, tingly feel­ing we all know too well? Can love be accept­ed as axiomat­ic or is it cul­ti­vat­ed, always in need of com­mit­ted care? It is up to the vis­i­tor to decide, but Andela and Davor cer­tain­ly don’t make the quest for love any eas­i­er to us. We are pre­sent­ed with cul­tures that don’t even have a word for love nor the need to explore it, we fol­low cou­ples and polyg­a­mous con­nec­tions through a life­time of strug­gle only to end up in sep­a­rate direc­tions, we find rela­tion­ships with vary­ing degrees of com­mit­ment to their sig­nif­i­cant other(s). But cer­tain­ly, this does not mean that rela­tion­ships with ini­tial prob­lems are doomed to fail. Rather on the con­trary, these pho­tographs give us phys­i­cal evi­dence of the way indi­vid­u­als can team up to con­quer even the most ardu­ous leaps of fate, rang­ing from tran­scul­tur­al dif­fer­ences to abduc­tions1, rape and even ter­mi­nal illnesses. 

Ghasir­am (60) and Kam­la (50) from India are mem­bers of the Bopa nomadic peo­ple who wan­der with their camels around the Rajasthan deserts and prac­tice one of the most extreme forms of forced arranged mar­riages. The mar­riages are arranged by the par­ents, most often when the cou­ple are still chil­dren, and some­times even before they’re born. Ghasir­am was fif­teen when he mar­ried Kam­la, who was only five, so she can hard­ly remem­ber the wed­ding. “We didn’t start liv­ing togeth­er right away!” says Ghasir­am. “We had to wait to grow up, so every­thing could be ready for the muk­lawa cer­e­mo­ny. Only after the muk­lawa could we begin to live togeth­er and build a fam­i­ly. Now we have nine chil­dren and many, many grand­chil­dren. And all is good.” © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

“Decon­struct­ing love”

In all these por­traits, the major theme dom­i­nat­ing the suc­cess of love and rela­tion­ships — or  lack there­of – is “con­scious deci­sion” as Andela puts it in an inter­view with FRANCE 24. The same lev­el of com­mit­ment seems to be the promis­ing fac­tor of a long-last­ing rela­tion­ship that is based on mutu­al deci­sion and effort. One tes­ti­mo­ni­al voice from the inter­views Davor con­duct­ed stands out: “Once he cheat­ed on me, but I didn’t allow him to hurt me with that. It made our love stronger”. It puts love as an abstract con­cept into prac­tice, show­ing how com­mit­ment and active deci­sion-mak­ing shape it rather than let­ting unpre­dictable feel­ings just run their course while hop­ing for the best.

The sto­ries are cap­ti­vat­ing and equal­ly shock­ing. They don’t allow for quick judge­ments but call for elab­o­rate reflec­tions, espe­cial­ly when the pre­sent­ed con­cept varies from our west­ern ones: Can we come to accept an arranged mar­riage with a much old­er man as equal­ly roman­tic as “love at first sight”? Do we con­demn polyan­drous2 mar­riages in the Indi­an Himalayas or see them as the basic premise of sur­vival? After all, is love only a mod­ern inven­tion, fueled by the mass media and Hollywood?

There cer­tain­ly is no cor­rect answer to any of these ques­tions. But it doesn’t hurt to reflect one’s ideas on love and its expres­sions occa­sion­al­ly. Even Davor and Andela had to admit a cer­tain influ­ence after com­plet­ing their project: “This changed us. We decon­struct­ed some of our illu­sions and learned from the cou­ples’ inspir­ing sto­ries”. In let­ting us expe­ri­ence hon­est and inti­mate con­ver­sa­tions around love, they suc­ceed in por­tray­ing its under­ly­ing motives, con­structs and actions, ulti­mate­ly paint­ing a clear­er pic­ture of the human condition.

Jiten­dra (40), Rat­tna (38) and Sad­nam (38) from India live in the remote Kin­naur Val­ley in the Himalayas, one of the last places in the world where polyandry, the cus­tom of a woman tak­ing sev­er­al hus­bands, is still prac­ticed. His­tor­i­cal­ly, polyandry was prac­ticed in few­er than 1% of the cul­tures of the world, while polyg­y­ny, the cus­tom of a man hav­ing sev­er­al wives, could be found in more than 85% of world cul­tures. In Kin­naur they prac­tice fra­ter­nal polyandry, mean­ing that a woman mar­ries two or more broth­ers from the same fam­i­ly. “I spend half my time with one hus­band and the oth­er half with the oth­er, and I love them equal­ly,” says Rat­tna. “Our chil­dren call one father old­er father, and the oth­er younger father.” © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

Davor Ros­tuhar was born in 1982 in Zagreb, Croa­t­ia. He start­ed his career as a writer and pho­tog­ra­ph­er in 2011 and worked for many well-known mag­a­zines, such as Nation­al Geo­graph­ic Croa­t­ia and Geo. He has vis­it­ed over 117 coun­tries and con­duct­ed more than 20 expe­di­tions around the world. His trav­els led him to some of the remotest areas on Earth and built the bases for the eight books he wrote and two doc­u­men­taries he pro­duced. His newest project, “Love around the world” was his hon­ey­moon trip with his wife Andela and can be vis­it­ed until the 20th of Feb­ru­ary 2022 in freiraum Berlin.

Don (69) and Sara (70) from the Unit­ed States spent the first 20 years or so of their life togeth­er liv­ing in a teepee in the wild where, on their own, they had five chil­dren. “Sara was always more ded­i­cat­ed to our rela­tion­ship than I was,” says Don. “I was always hold­ing the back door open a crack for oth­er oppor­tu­ni­ties. How­ev­er, when she learned of a sec­ond affair of mine, some­thing changed. She changed. She real­ized she could man­age with­out me, that she didn’t need me any­more. She radi­at­ed self-con­fi­dence. She said, ‘I am mov­ing for­ward, you are free to destroy your own life.’ Then I real­ized I would lose her and made the firm deci­sion, if she’d give me anoth­er chance, to slam shut that back door for­ev­er.” © Davor Ros­tuhar / f³ – freiraum für fotografie.

1Bridal abduc­tions, also called “bride kid­nap­ping” are still a com­mon­ly prac­ticed way of ini­ti­at­ing (forced) mar­riage in Kyr­gyzs­tan, as illus­trat­ed by sev­er­al inter­views in the exhi­bi­tion. 

2Polyandry” describes the prac­tice of a woman hav­ing two or more hus­bands at the same time. It is to this day only prac­ticed in 1% of all cul­tures, pre­dom­i­nate­ly on the Indi­an Sub­con­ti­nent, in the Kin­naur Region of the Himalayas.

Quellen:

FRANCE 24 Eng­lish. “The quest for love: What makes peo­ple fall for one anoth­er?” [Video].YouTube. 03/01/2021. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iSAZHx4tAaQ&t=315s. 

Mukhame­jan, Nadi­ra & Zhakyp­beko­va, Aidana. “Bride Kid­nap­ping in Kyr­gyzs­tan: A Reflec­tion of Con­ser­v­a­tive Val­ues?”. Cen­tral Asia Pro­gram. Web. 01/13/22. https://centralasiaprogram.org/bride-kidnapping-kyrgyzstan-reflection-conservative-values. 

Pol­green, Lydia. “One Bride for 2 Broth­ers: A Cus­tom Fades in India”. NY Times. Web. 02/09/22. https://www.nytimes.com/2010/07/17/world/asia/17polyandry.html. 

Dank geht an f3 — freiraum für fotografie für die Genehmi­gung zur redak­tionellen Nutzung des Bild­ma­te­ri­als. Das Text- und Bild­ma­te­r­i­al darf auss­chließlich zur aktuellen redak­tionellen Berichter­stat­tung über die Ausstel­lung ver­wen­det wer­den. Die Bilder dür­fen nicht mod­i­fiziert, beschnit­ten und über­druckt wer­den. f³ – freiraum für fotografie, die Künstler*innen sowie Ort und Dat­en der Ausstel­lung müssen bei ein­er Veröf­fentlichung erwäh­nt wer­den. Bitte nen­nen Sie bei der Veröf­fentlichung die angebene Bildunterschrift.


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ABOUT: Lara Shaker 

… lives in Berlin, where she stud­ies, dreams and above all, writes. Most of her texts cen­ter around inter­sec­tion­al fem­i­nism, ama­teur-lev­el phi­los­o­phy or miss­ing Kur­dis­tan. She loves to trav­el (most­ly in places, some­times in time) and brings a book every­where. If she is not in her room sur­round­ed by books, she can be found on her green yoga mat or in the near­est for­est. Her go-to smalltalk top­ics include: Nabokov’s sym­bol­ism, sex-pos­i­tiv­i­ty and the fact that giraffes exist.  Favorite read­ing snack: orange infused dark chocolate!
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