Marfa Vasilieva

Breaking Fragility​

How do we experience a common sense of loss, happiness or hope? What does it mean to go on a journey through the shades of the human soul, in synchronicity with others, and come back with treasure? A type of personal treasure that is intangible yet shared with others in a deep and profound way.

That shimmer of light that leads to a mystical and healing transformation of one’s core. Kiev, Ukraine, 2019. 63 Ukrainian women of different ages and body types come together in one space. Exposed in their nudity but cloaked with a thin layer of flour to symbolize a blank page. This is their first encounter. Fragile and burdened with the insecurity of appearance. This drifts at the surface but on the inside a story that needs to be shared. Without words. In their first moments the women feel lonely and lost in the crowd. A battle of fear, belief, doubt and fragility. Pain prevails until the women recognize their own insecurities in others. This is not a battle they fight alone. A shared sense of loss gives birth to a sense of support. The collective mind opens with empathy, a hidden power at the core of our human connection. We might not always know how to be friends but there is always something that binds us. We all go through similar stages; our first breath, first steps, first love, first kiss, first challenges all leading to joy or despair. We all want to be heard, recognized and loved. We want to belong. We belong together.

Breaking fragility is dedicated to all the women that are alive and breathing and for those that will come into our world until the end of time. It is dedicated to those who gave us life and showed us love. It is dedicated to our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and the entire female lineage that with its roots touch the spirit of infinity and love. When I made this series in 2019 none of us anticipated what would happen in 2022 and we are now confronted with the fragility of life and peace.

The project, even though unintended, acted as a therapy for many of the participating women. An afternoon fuelled by empathy, music and outburst had a profound healing effect. I asked the women to express their felt pain though the body by means of screaming and moaning. This was followed by the introduction of calm and tender music. Anastasia (videographer) asked the women to look around in search of someone in need of comforting and support. What once were strangers now turned into compassionate souls hugging one another. I witnessed a mystifying energy of lightness and mutual acceptance healing pain and breaking through fragility. The white flour being erased from the women’s faces by their tears drew me back in time.

It is 2017 and I’m at a temple in Tokyo, Japan. Here stands a stone cup with an inscription I can’t read but a vision arises in my mind – “Here your soul will be cleansed by tears.”

I asked 93 women (63 of them ended up at the photo- and video-shoot) two questions before shooting.

1. Why is this project important to you?

  • “I work with myself on the topic of femininity. I feeling that I do not see this aspect in myself.”
  • “Naked photo for me is the way to accept myself as I am now, my physicality and identity.”
  • “I want to overcome my fears.”
  • “Sometimes it’s not clear how to be a woman, sometimes you are in a transitional state and you can get support only in a female environment.”
  • “This shooting is for me the mystery of female interaction with a special philosophy of solidarity, exchange, expansion, deepening in myself and in other women.”
  • “It is important to accept myself for who I am and feel myself a part of something more than just a person.”
  • “I want to feel a commonality with women.”
  • “This project is about something frank and nude (and I’m not talking about the body). It is more about something sincere between women.”
  • “For me, this is art therapy. To feel the power of female support and diversity.”
  • “At one time I had a very prejudiced attitude towards women. I competed and envied. Only now I came to the point that every woman is unique.”
  • “This project is an important reminder of physicality and femininity. I lose connection with these sensations from time to time.”
  • “This project is an opportunity to look at my body in a new way and possibly fall in love with it. I want to reveal myself as a woman.”
  • “I want to feel the unity of women.”
  • “It is important for me to experience femininity (in a non-media understanding of it).”
  • “I am interested in a new understanding of femininity.”
  • “For me, this project is one of the possibilities to reveal the new petals of Myself. Unite with Women and totally feel the Power, Sexuality, Tenderness, Freedom and Support when we are together.”
  • “The issue of femininity is now especially relevant for me. I rediscover it in myself.”
  • “It is important for me to be a woman and to be a part of a large female connection. I would like society to see it.”
  • “The disclosure of femininity is more important than ever during the period of taking on ourselves more responsibilities.”
  • “I’m like a boy. I started to forget how is it to be a woman. I think this project will remind me how to be a woman.”
  • “This project is the way to work with the acceptance of my body.”
  • “I’m learning how to be a woman every day.”
  • “I am shy that I am a woman. I want to overcome this strange rejection of myself.”
  • “We are always afraid to shake off our shackles, we like to hide behind a screen. This project can help to reveal and show yourself as a human.”
  • “Working with femininity is a big job that should not stop.”
  • “I want to feel dare to be myself in this shoot in a naked form.”

2. What does the expression “Woman to Woman“ means to you (please write one word)?

Friend, Sensuality, Support (27 times), Girlfriend, Communication, the Way, Unity, Need, Beginning, Native, Inspiration, Norm, Mama, Mutual Exchange, Beauty, Trust, Ally, Human, Understanding, Tenderness, Disclosure, Honesty, Community, Wisdom Exchange, Soul, Initiation, Example, Diffusion, Heat, Motivator, Love, Jug, Association, Union, Sister, Caring, Source, Involvement, Mirror, Frankness, Joy, Universe, Stream, Open door, Acceptance, Proximity, Solidarity, Strength.