“This is a man’s world,” James Brown sang some 50 years ago. Luckily, a lot has changed since then, but it’s hard to deny men are still basically in control. It makes you wonder what the world would look like if women were in charge…
German photographer Karolin Klüppel went to a place where this fantasy was the reality. After her artist-in-residency program in Goa, India, she decided to photograph the indigenous people of the Khasi, a matrilineal society. In this community, which counts more than one million members, family ties go through the mother, so for example men will take on their wife’s name when they wed. Karolin’s three-month stay resulted in the fascinating and magical photo series Mädchenland –or land of girls.
In the series, we see girls as the protagonists of the story. The photos show them playfully jumping from a rock into a lake or standing fiercely between treetops on sky-scraping bridges. According to Karolin, the girls are remarkably confident, probably because of their special standing in society.
The artist was struck by the Khasi’s daily life. Some aspects of the community seemed traditional; wives stayed at home for housework, and men earned more than money. But at the end of the day, it’s the women who are in charge – wages are handed over to them, and the youngest daughter inherits the family’s property.
When a couple get married, the husband moves into his wife’s home. “Divorce and remarriage is common, totally respected and has no social stigma. Also, many young women decide to live alone,” Karolin says.
Because the family name moves from girl to girl, she explains that, “a family with just sons is considered to be miserable, because they can’t assure the continuity of a clan.”
Karolin didn’t want to document the Khasi culture in a classical manner. Instead, she depicted daily life in this society, while at the same time capturing the girls’ exceptional role. The results are a mixture of observant and staged photography, that resembles chapters from a fairytale.
Karolin offers us more than just an anthropological vision on the Khasi. We may live in a man’s world, but her images offer a glimpse of what a land of the girls could look like.