A Kihnu-themed exhibition has opened in London, presenting images taken by the French photographer, Jérémie Jung, that portray the cultural heritage in the Estonian island.
Since 2003, when UNESCO proclaimed Kihnu’s cultural space and traditions as a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity, an international interest in the island, lying just over ten kilometres (six miles) from the mainland Estonia at its closest point, has grown considerably. It mainly impacts tourism – visitors from as far as China and Japan have found their way there. And increasingly, also photographers and film makers have discovered the tiny island and put it on their radar.
One of them is Jérémie Jung – a French photographer whose work focuses on the resilience of traditional cultures. Jung has built up an impressive portfolio by portraying the local people and customs in Kihnu as well as in the Seto region – the historical area of settlement of the indigenous Seto people in the southeastern corner of Estonia.
In an interview given to Estonian World back in 2015, Jung explained his interest. “In France, most of the time when the island pops up in the media, it is said that this is the last matriarchal community. And I kept on going back and forth wanting to understand more about this community,” he said. “So when I came to Kihnu I thought of it as a matriarchal island but when I was there I quickly realised that this was wrong. I hadn’t found the matriarchal society I came for. But instead a very strong identity, mainly expressed through women. My work started very slowly. I came on shore without any first contacts. Bit by bit, I mingled and started to understand a bit more what the community is about.”
Organised by the Estonian embassy, London’s 12 Star Gallery now hosts an exhibition of Jung’s works that focus on the lives of Kihnu women. “Whereas Kihnu’s men – for the most part sailors and fishermen – brought innovation and novelty to the island, the women, that we could qualify as ‘cultural guardians’, were more conservative and tended to the affairs of the island,” the gallery said in the exhibition’s introduction.
“Kihnu – The Isle of Women” is open from 19 July – 15 September 2017.
Cover: Celebration for the re-opening to the public of Kihnu lighthouse. The woman’s skirt color is meaningful. In times of mourning, it will turn black, the mourning fading away, blue will be re-introduced then the bright red will be back. A skirt keeping its owner history, a young girls usually wear a much more vivid skirt than an older woman. Images by Jérémie Jung.