In her 1984 series Freuen bei arbeit, Helga Paris offered the world a glimpse of what female labor was like in East Germany using photographic portraits. Her subjects were the workers of the VEB Treff-Modelle in Berlin. Among the women employed in the textile factories of the former GDR there were many Mozambican vertragsarbeiter, young women from an African country that put great hope in the opportunities for progress offered by Marxism-Leninism. In those years, the best and brightest of Mozambican youth traveled to the GDR to learn mechanized labor from a socialist country with an advanced economy. The rest is history: the fall of the Berlin wall marked the beginning of a progressive disillusionment for the contract-workers, scarred by the often-traumatic experience of their return. However, many female workers did not have to wait for the passage of history, as they were often sent back because they became pregnant, betrayed by a system they had trusted. In one case or the other, these women have chosen their return as a mark by which they can be recognized and taken on the name Regressadas (Returnees). What is the significance of encountering these «working women» in Mozambique in 2022? The factories in which they once worked in the GDR are a thing of the past, a setting for their memories, replaced now by a domestic environment, a space favored by a different type of system: the informal economy. 

The “portrait” becomes the occasion for drawn out conversations attempting to trace the construction of a complex femininity often poised between two worlds, molded time and time again by their experiences in the GDR and their return. Regressadas is an installation in which three textual levels come together, rendering the spectator the receptacle where a synthesis takes place. The first source follows in the footsteps of Helga Paris: portraits, their gestures captured in the intimacy of their homes in the attempt to grasp the extraordinary that can become manifest in the ordinary. A second source is found in their personal photographs depicting their youth in the former GDR, representing an iconographic textuality in which the Regressadas often seek their reflection, tuning in to the time of memory. The third source is made up of their voices, which can be listened to thanks to a special listening station. The display is interspersed with details from the urban environment, seconding the intuition that the constant movement from one house to the other brings to light an alternative cartography of the suburbs of Maputo. Often the Regressadas are bound by neighborly relationships and by an aura of complicity, recreating a feminine geography that forms a subtext of the official city. These shots reconstruct the process behind my photographic work that became a “crossing ritual” of sorts, a transition from one neighborhood to the other, crossing courtyards, roads, rooms, finally finding peace in the sacred time of hospitality.    

Maria Ines
Maria Joana
Graziel e Juma Junior
Adelia e Elder