My Country is the World is an interdisciplinary "feminist psychogeography" exploration of the untold experiences of two radically different women in the context of the Bosnian War.
For more than 15 years, I have traveled over and over again to what is known as the Former Yugoslavia returning as if on some kind of homing instinct. Two days before I left for a Fulbright in Bosnia, I found a handful of letters my grandmother and I wrote to a woman we sponsored in a refugee camp in 1995. In 2015, I was reunited with this woman twice in her repatriated village which had been ethnically cleansed and turned into a rape camp during the Bosnian War.
Personal archives, paintings and academic lectures by my grandmother on Virginia Woolf's feminist pacifism are combined with war reportage and repatriation projects in Bosnia to animate a conversation on women in war, trauma, and overcoming.
Early writings during my time in Bosnia can be found on Gender Assignment here.
The letter I wrote in 1995, being read by her nephew at her home in Grapska.
Like Other Girls Do
Like Other Girls Do is a film by Melissa Potter shot on location in Montenegro and Serbia.
Stana Cerović was born in a tiny village in Montenegro to a family without boys. She sacrificed marriage and children to dress and live like a man. Stana wishes to be remembered in the family graveyard as her father’s son. Yet hardly anyone lives in the village anymore, and there is no mason to carve Stana’s name in stone. In Belgrade, Serbia are five young women--a bus driver, drag king, student, printmaker, and graffiti artist. They reveal different ideas about sacrifice, personal choice, identity, joy, and remembrance. How will Stana be remembered in this new world?
U.S. premiere of Potter's film, Like Other Girls Do at the Reeling LGBT International Film Festival
Stana Cerović, the film subject poses with a photograph of herself dressed as a man. Photo: Melissa Hilliard Potter
Feminist Felt is a collaboration by Melissa Potter with women in the Republic of Georgia, Miriam Schaer, the Women’s Fund in Georgia. It grew out of a Soros Arts and Culture grant program, Felted Lives: Crafting Women’s Stories. The works embrace feminist activism for women’s basic rights to safety as well as advocacy for women craft artisans, whose skills are endangered, underpaid and under recognized.
A collaboration with artist activist groups and women craft unions in the Republic of Georgia engaged the ancient Georgian craft of felt making to explore contemporary artists books, as well as protest banners and masks, which have been used in Georgian feminist and LGBTQIA marches and protests. These craft practices are in urgent need of intangible heritage preservation. Simultaneously, women's empowerment movements have taken Georgia into its second wave of feminism, and they oppose the oppressive gender regulations of an Orthodox society, at times to their personal endangerment.
Equal Pay for Equal Work, designed with Ida Bakhturidze, Miriam Schaer, Nana Magradze, and Clifton Meador
Equal Pay for Equal Work, designed by Melissa Potter in handmade felt
Melissa Potter and Ida Bakhturidze in a Georgian village credit union.
No Violence, designed by Ida Bakhturidze and an Alvani workshop participant in handmade felt.
Ida Bakhturidze and Melissa Potter in front of the Alvani school.
My Body, My Choice, designed by Ida Bakhturidze and Melissa Potter
Listen to Women! Designed by Independent Group of Feminists members in Tbilisi, Georgia
Women's Rights are Human Rights, designed by Ida Bakhturizde
Tbilisi's first International Women's Day march with banners
From the collection of ethnographer, Robert Chenciner
Women in Alvani share their Tusheti traditional design
Ida Bakhturidze, Melissa Potter and Miriam Schaer at the Georgian border of Daghestan.
Jersey Devil felt mask, designed by Melissa Potter
Ida Bakhturidze wearing bunny mustache mask designed by Melissa Potter
Women's Fund in Georgia founder, Nana Pantsulaia and her feminist mask.
Felted masked activism at protests against virginity testing in Tbilisi.
Collaborator, apprentice, assistant, fabricator—this project considers the unacknowledged labors that make major artworks possible. Pink bookmarks printed with historical research and transparent pages depicting the work of these invisible makers challenge our notions of authorship in the art history tome, Gardner's Art Through the Ages. The book is covered in pink handmade paper made by the artist.
The book was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago in conjunction with the Kerry James Marshall Mastry exhibition.
Food, Sex & Death
Food, Sex & Death is a series of work and performance project inspired by my research on the the history of the women who worked as sex workers in the location of The Papermaker's Garden at the turn of the 20th Century until the mid-80s.
In that space, I grow fibers to make art, and collect and rename seeds reflecting this untold history. The work weaves together the stories of four Chicago sex workers found in a historical database, Mary Blood, the founder of Columbia College Chicago and a member of the Women's Christian Temperance Union, the Hull House Wage Map study workers, who collected information on the brothels, and myself as a worker in the same location.
Menu from Food, Sex & Death in The Papermaker’s Garden, 2016 Front: Letterpress on handmade potato vine paper Back: Inkjet on handmade potato vine paper 5 x 7 inches
Handmade paper (sunflower and corn stalk), ink 80 x 36 inches (each)
Food, Sex & Death performance in the Papermaker's Garden.
Food, Sex & Death event in the Papermaker's Garden.
Letterpress printing paper with fiber from Fresh Press, Illinois.
Sex Work Is Work: an intake log of all the paper grown for my artwork in the Papermaker’s Garden considering the history of the 65 brothels identified by Hull House wage map workers in that location. The offset edition included is a four-part narrative based on research conducted at the Hull House, the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, The Chicago Homicide Database, and Columbia College Chicago archives.
Boy Brides & Bachelors
Boy Brides & Bachelors is an animated video by Melissa Potter shot on a cold January night in Southeastern Serbia during a ritual called Surovari in which men dress as women (large breasted peasants, grandmothers, and brides), and engage in pretend sexual acts with village bachelors. Little is known about the meaning of this pagan ritual, but its contemporary gender role-play implications are profound. I use stop motion animations to engage my questions about the underlying meanings of the ritual, and make a connection between my inability to translate much of what was going on with the strange language of gender itself.