“The first time I saw my self-portrait I cried and felt ugly, I looked very vulnerable,” the former inmate Kristine says.
Today she feels strong and confident. The art therapy project ‘Her/Story’ by the Spanish photographer Cristina Nunez Salmeron, helped Kristine feel proud of herself again.
“I’m from a small village in Norway where everybody knows everything about each other. I was a victim of psychological violence, and started using drugs. I got into crime at a young age,” says Kristine.
An extreme exposure
Kristine went to prison when she was 20, as one of the youngest inmates at Bredtveit, a Norwegian prison for women. She was one of 45 inmates, from Norway and Spain, who participated in the bilateral cultural exchange project ‘Her/Story’ financed by Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein.
“The project changed the way I look at myself,” says Kristine.
Kristine didn’t care for this photo when she first saw it. Photo Credit: Kristine
Artist and photographer Cristina Nunez Salmeron wants to portray human beings, without labelling them according to their class or situation. She is letting inmates take their own self-portraits to describe how they feel. Cristina believes the photos serve as both beautiful and unveiling art, as well as therapy in the way the inmates analyse each other’s photos.
“I think the extreme exposure makes people relate to one another in a deeper and a more humane way,” Nunez says.
Kristine used to have good self-esteem, but inside the prison walls she felt depressed and developed anxiety.
“I felt lonely, and some of the other inmates scared me. I didn’t feel that I belonged there,” Kristine says.
After being a part of the ‘Her/Story’ project, Kristine has a different perspective on things.
“In the beginning it was scary. I’m more comfortable taking selfies with filters. In a way, the photos forced me to see myself from a different perspective. I listened to what the other inmates saw in my photos. Some nice things were said, and I still remember those things today.”
Kristine thinks the project ‘Her/Story’ changed the way she looks at herself. Today she is out of prison and a full time student. Photo credit: FMO / Maria Knoph Vigsnaes
“A great method of therapy”
The ‘Her/Story’- project aims to improve the cultural links between Spain and Norway, as well as promoting an European identity. According to the Deputy Head of Bredtveit Prison, the EEA Grants financed project also functioned as a form of rehabilitation.
“We have never seen anything like this before. It has been an exciting part of the correctional services. Cristina Nunez managed to create a discussion about hidden feelings that’s usually difficult to talk about. The participants were very satisfied and proud of their products,” says Doris Bakken, Deputy Head of Bredtveit Prison.
Bakken is fascinated by the way Cristina uses photography to reflect on the inmate’s feelings and self-esteem.
“They also developed a closer relationship to each other, and became more tolerant. From our perspective, this project and cooperation was very successful; it worked not just as an art project, but also as a method of therapy,” says Bakken.
“I was ashamed of myself”
After eight months’ atonement in prison, Kristine is back to everyday life. Today, she is abstinent, she is studying almost full time, and she recently got engaged.
“This project has helped me with a lot of things and my life is good now. I didn’t like my pictures in the beginning. I was ashamed. Now I can look at those pictures and say: I am proud, I look good. It represents who I used to be. It is art,” says Kristine.
Today Kristine describes the project in prison as a bud that has blossomed. Photo Credit: FMO / Maria Knoph Vigsnaes
Bredtveit Prison has arranged similar workshops on their own initiative after this project. ‘Her/Story’ will continue after the funded EEA Grants project period is over, by students from Oslo Fotokunstskole, supervised by Nunez.
Find out more
Her/Story. Two Women Behind the Camera
Protecting Cultural Heritage
The Self-Portrait Experience scp
Type of Institution:
Cristina Núñez has been taking self-portraits since 1988 as a form of self-therapy to explore her personal and creative identity. Ever since the time of primitive societies, the body has been assigned symbolic meanings that go beyond the individual. A cultural dimension is added which transforms the body into the core expression of all natural events. The project aims to raise women’s self-esteem by sharing the artist’s experiences. The result of the project will be: - “Her/Story. Two women behind the camera”, a video reflecting two pieces, “La vie en Rose” by Cristina Nuñez and “Changing art and restoring the studio” by Lotte Konow Lund. - Two self-portrait workshops for women in prison in Barcelona and Oslo. The work in prisons aims at helping the inmates entering into a creative process by transforming their emotions in artwork, and thus discovering their potential and raising their self-esteem. - A self-portrait workshop for the public in Norway. - Exhibitions and performances in Barcelona (June) and Oslo (August). The general public and women in prisons in Barcelona and Oslo will benefit from the project by participating in the workshops and exhibitions.