New York/The Guggenheim: Ein Roboter in einem Glaskäfig versucht sich drei Jahre lang am Leben zu erhalten. Am Ende seiner Kraft liegt eine absurde Erkenntnis.
Davor Rostuhar and Andela Rostuhar
Croatia / Worldwide
December 4 2021 — February 20 2022 in f3 — freiraum für fotografie
Print, Multimedia (Videomaterial of interviews)
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.
“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.
“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”.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
2“Polyandry” 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.
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.
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