By Chitra Kalyani
“The future of football is female,” proclaims one of the texts that tie the collection of photographs at Sawy Culture Wheel.
German photographer Claudia Wiens launched her exhibit, along with the book, titled “Shoe Size 37 – Women’s Football in Egypt, Palestine, Turkey and Germany” on Saturday.
Supported by Goethe Institute in Cairo, the exhibit came a day ahead of the opening of the FIFA Women’s World Cup hosted in Germany this year.
The adventurer in her has taken her through less-trodden paths photographing women’s wrestling in Mexico or the leprosy clinic in Egypt, said Wiens. While these options have not been the most lucrative, Wiens finds it both a moral imperative and more interesting subject to explore stories not easily accessible on Google.
Wiens has also authored two books on the social life of the less discussed communities in Egypt and Myanmar through her works “Coptic Life in Egypt” and “Of Dung-Beetle Messengers and Infamous Crickets.”
Her fluency in Arabic and having lived in the region, particularly Egypt and Turkey, for 10 years gave Wiens the opportunity to enter the world on women’s football. “It’s nice that they gave me this trust,” said the German photographer, adding “I disturb them while they’re training because I like to get close.”
Moments of femininity make their way into the sport. Players are revealed in moments of repose: two girls lying on the pitch in one while a player reflects on her bed at summer camp in another. In both, the subjects seem unaware of the camera.
Other moments capture the highlights of football, the moment of impact between the shoe and the spinning ball, and the goalie jumping to catch the ball; jerseys, players walking on field, the talk of the locker room, training on field. At times like these, gender ceases to matter.
Yet lumping the subjects of various countries together into one book, and further, in one exhibit, seems to do a disservice to the particular nuances of each country.
The economic inequality amid the regions and different football leagues is evident in the photographs. In Turkey and Germany and parts of Egypt, the teams enjoy lush green grass. Training on concrete surfaces is an added challenge to teams in Sayyeda Zeinab and Abbassiya, Wiens noted.
While some teams, such as Wadi Degla receive payment, many players are unpaid. “It is still not equal,” remarked Wiens, talking about how women’s payment for football, both in Egypt and in Germany.
Accompanying texts rather than photographs provide a more nuanced understanding of how politics affects sports. Israel-Palestine conflicts prevent teams in the West Bank from meeting for training. Ironically, it is only in tournaments abroad that the Palestinian teams meet as a group.
Cultural peculiarities, however, are remarked only in passing, like a mosque that appears in the background as women train on field. Two pictures show the same subject with and without a veil. “She didn’t have a mirror, so she asked me to take a picture so she could see what she looked like,” said Wiens, pointing to the picture where the subject was combing her hair readying for the pitch.
Wiens spoke of women who had taken up football professionally — of a football trainer who through her experience as a football player had learned how to best teach women football. While certain struggles and stories come through, others like this story related by Wiens are unrecorded in the text or photos.
In 1989, when the German team won the EU championship for women, each player won a coffee set, Ingrid Koester, head of the Language Department at Goethe Institute, tells Daily News Egypt.
That may still be considered a step ahead from 1955, when the German Football Federation banned football for women on the grounds that “their bodies and souls will inevitably be damaged” by the sport. The ban was lifted in 1970.
Wiens exhibit in particular honors “the dynamism and determination of young women,” said Koester, “by highlighting the difficult conditions in which women play.”
Juxtaposing the discrimination faced by the German football team with that faced by the Palestinian teams seems to do disservice to both struggles. While showcasing the treatment of women as second-class citizens and sportsmen worldwide, the exhibit finds only a loose basis for tying up four very separate regions.
As separate topics with greater nuance that explore their dissimilarity further, the project would have done better to reveal in greater detail how women react not only through barriers placed by gender but also in relation to the peculiarities of their community.
The Goethe will host a series of events on women and football in Egypt to run alongside the women’s football championship in Germany.
For more information on the artist, visit http://www.claudiawiens.com/. “Shoe Size 37 – Women’s Football in Egypt, Palestine, Turkey and Germany” will be on exhibit at Sawy Culture Wheel’s Word Hall 1 through July 5.