Visiting Mermaids is a collection of artworks by Krisztina Czika, made from found negatives and printed onto concrete. The project explores the sea as a cultural as well as a natural space, focusing on how it impacts the lives of Sri Lankan women. The date stamp on the found negatives tells us that the photographs were taken in 1991. In the photos, we see the joy and mutual support of a community of women clearly enjoying themselves on the beach. What makes the images all the more striking is that in Sri Lankan culture, due to societal expectations and the prominence of traditional gender roles, the seaside is typically a male-dominated space.
The project came into being after Czika’s artist residency in Sri Lanka was canceled due to the global pandemic, and because of travel restrictions and a strict lockdown, she found herself, to all intents and purposes, trapped on the island. One day during a brief respite from lockdown, Czika found the negatives in a pile of street trash. She wasn’t able to see exactly what she’d found, however, until she returned to her studio in Amsterdam in August 2020.
“These found negatives offer a unique insight into a blessed moment in history — a moment of peace and joy and female community in the space between other darker periods of history. Using the negatives, I was able to preserve and raise awareness of this special moment.” — Krisztina Czika
Visiting Mermaids is an extension of the work featured in Czika’s previous series Between Lockdowns, which uses the same found negatives.
Concrete was used for the same reasons it’s used everywhere in urban society: because of its strength and durability.
These qualities made it the perfect material to preserve the memories that were stored on the negatives. Previously discarded, almost lost forever, these faded memories are now preserved on a material that hardens and cures over time, allowing the moments shared by these women to be passed on to the next generation.
The sale of the artworks will be used to support the charity Sea Sisters LK, a Sri Lankan charity that empowers women, creating a safe space for them to learn to swim and surf, opening up endless possibilities in the process.
“In Sri Lanka, local women are hardly seen in the ocean. Despite growing up on an island, most women have never learned how to swim and thus, fear the ocean. This is the result of traditional gender norms and cultural expectations that have prevented the ocean from becoming 'an accepted space' for women. Particularly in rural areas, women are expected to stay at home and take care of their families, often excluding them from the recreational and economic opportunities of surf tourism.”