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Liina Siib. From series: A Woman Takes Little Space. 2008-2011

I picked up my camera and went to visit workplaces. I didn’t go and arrange visits, or ask to come later back to take photographs. I simply walked around, searched, and, if given permission, took pictures. I did not stage theses pictures. My precondition was to find real situations that conformed to the idea in my mind—about women in restricted working conditions, where they practically blend into the environment. Many men work in minimal spaces, too—guards, shoemakers, horologists. Yet the photo series focuses in depicting women in their conditions.

Did the women you met comment on their working conditions?

Yes, we discussed it. Actually, I’ve been making this series for four years now, and have gotten to known several of these women much better; I know how their lives have progressed over these years. I began in 2007, which was an economically stable time; but soon after that, many people began to lose their jobs. One of the women whom I photographed worked at the Building Design & Project Management Company, where she was almost the only woman. The recession led to the need for job cuts, and she was the one asked to leave. She became pregnant – the mothers in Estonia are financially supported for a year and a half after giving birth. Of course it’s great to have a child, yet it happened so and perhaps wasn’t entirely her free choice.

Is this gender inequality a noticeable problem in Estonia?

A couple years ago it wasn’t so noticeable and spoken. Yet more and more people are beginning to talk about it as a problem. Solutions have been sought, yet action should be taken on a state level. For now the government is just talking, conducting studies. Of course, there are also women who work in high-level positions, such as museum or hospital directors. I don’t know about the salary, it ought to be the same salary as men. Unequal pay can be seen precisely in menial labor positions—cashiers, vendors at the market, nurses, the jobs men don’t accept because of the small salary. 

What do you think when your art is described as feminist?

Many people ask me whether my art is feminist. If you make a work about a woman, someone will definitely ask you that. That’s discrimination too, isn’t it? I’ve photographed women from the very beginning, but I’ve never perceived it as such. I’m a woman. Perhaps it’s easier for me to empathise with them? Discrimination can have several levels, beginning with “Ah, she’s a feminist artist. She photographs woman. Now everything is clear.” I rather perceive my art as social. Of course, feminist issues are included there too—it’s hard to ignore them, if the work is about the welfare of women.