Urban Herstories

Urban Herstories is a community-driven initiative that aims to capture and celebrate the history of three Eastern European cities: the Slovak city of Košice, the Ukrainian city of Ivano-Frankivsk, and my home town Zenica, with a focus on women’s contributions and experiences.

The project is a collaborative effort between local activists, historians, artists, and community members, who have been working together to create a comprehensive archive of stories and memories that reflect the diversity and complexity of the past of our cities. I have co-authored this project with friends and activists from Slovakia, Ukraine and Poland: Barbora Andor Tóthov, Anna Potyomkina and Katarzyna Zielińska.

The project’s name, “Urban Herstories,” is a deliberate nod to the often-overlooked role that women have played in shaping our cities’ history. Women have been leaders, activists, artists, workers, and caregivers, but their stories and contributions have often been sidelined or ignored. The project seeks to redress this imbalance by amplifying these stories and highlighting the important role that women have played in building and sustaining our cities.

Urban Herstories takes a multi-pronged approach to collecting and sharing stories. It involves conducting oral history interviews with older women from Zenica. The interviews I conducted became part of the city’s audio guide called “The Female Face of Zenica”. These interviews are recorded and edited and added to an online audio archive, where they can be accessed by anyone interested in learning more about my city’s past. The archive is designed to be an inclusive and accessible resource, with recordings available in both Bosnian and English.

The photo materials that I collected from women who are part of the project, local historians and other citizens are included in the photographic project of the Ukrainian artist Elena Subach. Elena Subach’s works are an imaginary journey through the urban space of Zenica and its “herstories”. Using a visual language specific to her art, she delved into archives and took virtual walks using old city plans and internet resources to create her own vision of Zenica from an artistic perspective.

The Urban Herstories project has already had a significant impact on Zenica’s cultural landscape. By highlighting the stories and experiences of women, the project is helping to create a more inclusive and diverse vision of the city’s past. It is also empowering local women to take ownership of their own history and to share their stories with a wider audience.

Perhaps most importantly, the project is fostering a sense of community pride and engagement. By involving local artists, historians, and community members in the project, we created a shared sense of ownership and responsibility for preserving Zenica’s heritage. This sense of connection and shared purpose is essential for building a vibrant and sustainable community.

Overall, the Urban Herstories project in Zenica is a powerful example of the transformative potential of community-led cultural initiatives. By telling the stories and experiences of older women, the project is helping to create a more inclusive and vibrant vision of Zenica’s past, while also fostering a sense of community pride and engagement. As the project continues to evolve and expand, it has the potential to become a model for other cities looking to celebrate their own unique histories and herstories.

In Ivano-Frankivsk, Metalab Studio conducted research among Ukrainian women of older generations. The initiative aimed to explore access to public places and the urban environment for older people during the pandemic of COVID-19: What does safety mean for older persons? How has the daily routine in quarantine changed? How do people at risk feel and what do they really need? 

The young Slovak director Dorota Vlnova met with a group of older women in Košice, Slovakia, and recorded a documentary that talks about the memories of their past lives and records the present days that they fill with creative work.

This is an extract of one part of the project – a sound map “Female face of Zenica” (in Bosnian):

All materials are available on the project website: UrbanHerstories.com.

The project updates can be followed through a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/urban.herstories and Instagram profile: https://www.instagram.com/urbanherstories/