Bärenmädchen / Bear Girls

Ute Behrend

2016 - 2019

Bärenmädchen / Bear Girls

Somewhere in North America or Canada, there is a tribe of Indians who dress their pubescent girls in large bearskins. The girls all live together just outside the village, the bearskins protecting them from the gaze of the adults and boys. They are even advised to be particularly slow and clumsy, to mimic the movement of a bear. This protected environment allows them to mature in a carefree and undisturbed way. They themselves determine the moment when they finally throw off their bearskin, and become part of the community of grown-up women. Girls of this tribe may even decide to become braves. Not many do, but some have.

When I recently told a friend about this, she was certain she had heard of this tribe before.

As it happens, I made it all up myself.

How do young girls become strong women?

Adolescence is the theme of my new book. At the beginning I tell a story about a fictional Indian tribe that separates its pubescent girls and dresses them in bearskins. In this way they are protected from premature sexualisation. The result is a shelter that gives the girls the opportunity to develop freely and self-determinedly in this important phase of their lives. I call these girls "bear girls" and draw parallels in our society, where free spaces for adolescent girls become less and less. Many young women try to evade the stereotypes of sexualised identification that are shaped by society and the media. This is often evident in similar behaviour patterns, e.g. wearing very large sweaters that girls like to "borrow" from their father's wardrobe.

In "Smart Girls, Gifted Women", Barbara Kerr examined the similarities that later became strong women. She found that all girls had time for themselves, the ability to fall in love with an idea, and a "protective cover". None was particularly popular and most remained relatively isolated in their age group. Interestingly, this rejection gave them a free space in which to develop their uniqueness.

Parallel to the portraits of the girls I take photographs with a focus on nature, wild animals and the concept of distance and closeness.

I then work on combining these single images to final pairs.

The references between the pictures inspire the viewer to link the content of what he has seen.

Ute Behrend

{{ readMoreButton }}

  • Bedroom & Puppet

  • Girl with beard & Girl with pink wig

  • Cover

  • Exibition view

  • Seawater & Amalia

  • Girl with fur & Tepee rack

  • Fire & Hunters vest

  • Fox & Mia Wallace

  • Girl in evening dress & Dark trees

  • Footprints and Paw prints & Little plastic hand

  • Lina & Autumn scrub

  • Bear Girl in forest & Bear Girl in bedroom

  • Birch forest & Ear of a deer”

  • Girl with fur in woods & Sleeping bear

  • Target & Cuddly toy

  • Sleeping girl & Feather on red earth

  • Bloody shirt & Plumes in grass

  • Homage to Meret Oppenheim & poisonous mushrooms

  • Indian shadow & Hair on red carpet

  • Daya and Mila & Scull