While many women in India are caged in the patriarchal structure of society, the story of women in the small and remote village of Mawlynnong, in India’s northeastern state of Meghalaya is very different. In that village, women are self-assured and confident. They don’t take the backseat, rather they are the leading members of their community. As reported by New York Times
, a Berlin-based photographer, Karolin Klüppel
, took a series of photos exploring one of the world’s rare matrilineal societies.
When Ms. Klüppel heard about the Khasi tribe during an artist-in-residency program in Goa, she knew she wanted to experience — and visually capture — this society. She lived with different families in Mawlynnong for nine months to create her photo series “Mädchenland,” or “Kingdom of Girls.”
The series offers glimpses of Mawlynnong’s physical beauty and displays the freedom that these girls enjoy. Ms Klüppel said:
“In the Khasi culture, women and girls have a special standing in the society and, of course, this exceptional role ‘produces’ a great self-confidence. I did not want to do a classical documentary on their culture, but tried to capture this outstanding role somehow. I decided to make a portrait series of the girls because I was so impressed by their self-assured appearance and thought this must be how matriliny becomes visible.”
In Khasi culture, the youngest girl in a family inherits its wealth and property, and children take their mother’s surname. Having only boys is hard luck. Khasi women marry whom they want — no arranged marriages there — and divorce or chose to remain single with no stigma.
Ms Klüppel explained that the girls work at an early age. The girls do household chores and take care of younger siblings. But Khasi girls are content. So are boys, until they reach manhood and experience an imbalance of power in the household.
While many commenters complained that the portraits lacked context and left them wanting to know more about the Khasi, Ms. Klüppel said:
“I wanted to capture how the girls’ behavior demonstrated their power. For me, their culture just got visible through their behavior and I tried to capture that. I do not think that I leave out the context, because whenever I write about my work, I explain their culture.”
“Mädchenland” is making the rounds of galleries. Already exhibited in Copenhagen, Paris, Berlin and Cologne, Germany, it will be part of a show in Toulouse, France, in September.
Ms. Klüppel, who received a Master of Fine Arts in photography in 2012, wants to further explore indigenous groups and societies, especially matrilineal ones. Her next project, she said, will be on another matrilineal ethnic minority -the Mosuo of China.