Paolina Stefani is a London and Milan based storyteller, director and editor from Lucca, Italy, where she was born from a dutch/belgian mother and italian father. With her mixed heritage and identity, family and generations became an important study of hers. Matriosca (wooden dolls designed to fit in each other, coming from the Latin 'mater', 'mother') was created as a testament to this. Paolina, Paolina's mother, Paolina's grandmother and their shared generational feature 'big teeth' became the subject.
Along with the film Matriosca, Paolina expanded the project to a book - where she approached 30 families of three tier inter-generational women and asked them to tell their stories.
The film for the book can be found here
Themes of intergenerational voices, identity, image and womanhood are confronted in the book that collects the women's own chosen story. The impetus behind this project was inspired by feminist writer Elizabeth Lesser, “in the attempt of seeing what happens when women become protagonists in telling the tales that exemplify what it means to be human.” Stefani wants to begin a culture where women are not just pedestaled as historic figures via men, but instead allowed to share what they want to share.
Paolina Stefani, 'Growing up in a multilingual family gave birth to my passion: Communication.
Speaking 5 different languages, I understood how the words we use could change from language to language, while the feelings remain universal. Becoming a translator and interpreter of those universal feelings is what my practice revolves around. To interpret and translate feelings, setting them outwards, and presenting them a voice through storytelling is my way of reaching my personal and professional instinct of connection.
Initially viewing the world of storytelling as one where both logically and ideologically, all were equal citizens, I soon realized that it is not as democratic and representative as it may seam. Whether it is oral, written, expressed through imagery or film, as a woman, I struggled to find my voice to be both represented or heard.
Growing up in a small town in Tuscany, being a woman became one of my biggest struggles and challenges.
Being hypersexualized from a very young age and seen as what my body appeared like instead of its content I developed a very limited understanding of what as a woman I could be or do. The options were few and stereotypical and lead me to problems of bulimia and anorexia.
In my Italian high school, through education, the examples I was given of women to look up to were Iliad’s Elena, Dante’s Beatrice, or Hamlet’s Ophelia. One had caused a war after two men started fighting for her, the second was an unreachable angelic figure causing the male-lead a lot of struggles, and the last one had killed herself out of madness for the men in her life. Sixteen-year-old me did not understand why the narrative would always put them, as my literature teacher taught me to say, as the ‘object of desire’. And even more concerningly, why were my teachers not critically analysing the narratives and explaining this was just a specific, quite incomplete example of what human stories deal with?
Being the object of desire lead my understanding of womanhood as a passive one, I was the desired object not the desiring subject.
I’m not saying anything revelatory when I remind us that the people in charge for most of human history have been men, and a certain type of man, brandishing a specific version of masculinity. And for most of these years, whoever was other than that, was expected to stay in a narrow lane. The old stories were told from such a specific perspective that over the ages, gender differences have been carved not only into our cultural norms but also in our brains. Humanity has come to the end of a long, unbalanced era. We are maybe not yet in a culture of change, but we sure are in a culture of conversation.
What my work shares is the intention to open the conversation asking myself and others what happens when women start telling their own stories.
Taking this as a healing and empowering process I asked other women to join me, actively taking the lead in telling the story of them, their mother and grandmother. The project would follow a new narrative, leaving aside the obsolete one that society teaches women of perceiving power in singularity, in being the one, the it girl. Power is not putting women against eachother, in competition for a validation of the male gaze, power does not mean rejecting others and otherness.
The narrative this project aims at promoting tells us that power lies in our partnership, that the real power comes from succeeding with people, not in succeeding off of people, that real power is born from sisterhood. The more power you share the more power you have, and the more power you have the more power you must share. We need to redefine what it means to be a powerful woman. The definition of power is evolving, it is changing, and it is changing because of women and their stories.
Both Matriosca the film and the publication consist in asking myself and then others how we want to tell our story, the one of our mothers and the one of our grandmothers and as women, reclaim our new narrative and being empowered by it.'
for the film - director and storyteller : @popstefani
for the book - editor designer and curator : @popstefani
women featured in alphabetical order :
Amandine Forest, Amina Seoudi, Amy Jackson, Anna Naldini, Anna Kossman, Ashwarya Agarwal, Beatriz Gonçalves, Carla van den Berg, Caterina Matteucci, Chiara Savarese, Connie Boree, Diletta Lucherini, Elena Videva, Federica Betti, Federica Murano, Federica Pisano, Florrie Smith, Francesca Barsali, Giulia Giorgi, Irene Paolinelli, Julia Iunes, Kristen Funk, Maria Clara Tavares, Marta Innocenti, Marta Matteoni, Martina Tronconi, Paulina Metsavaht, Rahi Patel, Stella Ardito
their mothers and their grandmothers.