It all began with a Google search “Icelandic Fisherwomen.” The first article I read “Iceland’s Forgotten Fisherwoman” (sapiens.org/culture/icelandic-fisherwomen-forgotten/) was my inspiration for a series of mixed media paintings and installation “Stories of Forgotten Fisherwomen” at an artist residency in Iceland (Fish Factory - Creative Centre of Stöðvarfjörður).
A cultural anthropologist and former seawoman, Dr. Margaret E. Willson, began her research into the stories of Icelandic fisherwomen after reading a plaque honoring one
of Iceland’s greatest fishing captains, Thurídur Einarsdóttir (1777 to 1863), and discovering that Icelanders she met were not familiar with her. Willson’s research culminated in the publication of the book “Seawomen of Iceland: Survival on the Edge” (margaretwill- sonbooks.com/) and also a collaborative exhibition of past, present, and future Icelandic sea women at Rejkavík’s Maritime Museum (borgarsogusafn.is/en/reykjavik-mari- time-museum/exhibitions/sea-women) in 2015.
Women fishing in the 18th - 19th centuries was not uncommon and was not a feminist act. Strength and ability counted more than one’s sex. Female farm laborers also worked at sea and pregnant women rowed and gave birth on boats. Another historical figure, Björg Einarsdóttir, a fisherwoman and poet (1716 - 1784), challenged men in her poetry:
Do row better my dear man,
Fear not to hurt the ocean.
Set your shoulders if you can
Into harder motion.
Conventional gender roles are a product of modern times and urbanization. Women’s role has become one of processing fish over catching fish. “Stories of Forgotten Fisherwomen” is to honor sea women.
While working on the project, artist Miriam Donohue (@miriamdonohuemusic) arrived at the residency and
I explained my inspiration. She felt similarly inspired and wrote and composed the song “THE FISHERWOMAN.” We are both storytellers— my words are represented by graphic bars woven into my artwork and Miriam spins her tales with poetic lyrics. The resulting installation is a collaborative effort with my visuals created from Fish Factory salvaged materials and Miriam’s music.
— Jana Charl