Elena Gallina

“I want young women and girls to see this work and feel a sense of pride and happiness when they hear their mother’s, auntie’s and grandmother’s stories,” Elena Gallina tells me.

The Rhodes scholar and artist-in-residence is returning to Oxford with a new exhibition about her home country Kosovo ‘Çiknia jonë: Our Girlhood’ is launching at Rhodes House on February 29.

Created to honour those who first inspired her, it’s ‘an investigation and celebration of Kosovar women’s history and an honour and ode to how we live with grace and colour in a way that is just for us’.

‘Çiknia jonë: Our Girlhood’ exhibition

Using multi media, the exhibition is made up of archival elements (paper napkins), poetry, photography, and interviews. READ ABOUT HER LAST OXFORD EXHIBITION – WAR TORN AFGHANISTAN – HERE

Elena spent six months traveling across Kosovo interviewing women across several generations about her childhood habit of “napkin trading.”

The collaboration with youth activists, feminist groups, and journalists in Kosovo means this work has become “artivism”, and she hopes it will spark much needed larger international conversations on conceptions of girlhood and remove some of the stigma of those in “post-war” places such as her home of Kosovo.

Elena in Mitrovica

“I want it to be a living and active work that asks us to investigate girlhood – the good and bad. I found that the nostalgia and beauty of these memories resonates with a lot of people.

“Some of my interviewees are over 70. So this napkin trading has held for many generations. I found it so rewarding and inspiring to sit in a room of inter-generational women and reflect on our shared experiences of being 8-12 romping around with boxes of paper napkins. A cool circle/cycle of history,” she explains

“I was surprised to find how far back the practice goes! Like everywhere in the world, we are still governed by the patriarchy. So of course the “sfidat” which is Albanian for “challenges” of womanhood/girlhood came up in the interviews.

Elena on her research tour

“We have many challenges. And women the world over will understand and resonate with that. Whether it’s equal pay, community respect, domestic violence, the list goes on.

“But the importance of this work isn’t to focus on the challenges or the barriers, but to shine a different light – to redirect our gaze on the more joyful and colourful aspects of our feminine history, that’s often missing in the discourse lately.”

Starting in Mitrovica, the city where Elena spent the majority of her childhood, it is divided in half by a bridge, with Serbians to the north and Albanians to the south. “I spent much of my elementary years there (on the south side),” she says.

‘Çiknia jonë: Our Girlhood’ exhibition

The exhibition will also travel to the USA and Kosovo, to establish the ‘sister-site’ idea, linking Oxford with various cities across Kosovo, and hang in the Museum of Mitrovica.

Elena was the first female Rhodes scholar in US Boise State history, and the first scholar to represent Kosovo inside the house (she is American by passport but grew up in Kosovo following the war there). She graduated from Oxford with an MSc in Economic and Social History, and an MBA, and returned to Kosovo following graduation.

There will be an opening reception event at Rhodes House on Feb 29, with Elena giving an Artist Talk.

Free tickets for the launch of Elena Gallina, Çiknia jonë: Our Girlhood on February 29 can be applied for here: https://artsvp.com/abb56e