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We collect hammers

Do you know Matea Šabić Sabljić? No? We’ll tell you something about her as much as we can.

Well, Matea is an artist, in a word. But she’s also a researcher, a seeker of stories in art and culture, maritime activities, shipbuilding, a creator of multimedia urban installations in space… What fascinated us is that Matea, among other things, is a boat builder. You read that correctly. In her studio in Zagreb, besides engaging in visual arts, which she graduated from the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, she builds boats. Real, navigable boats, or as she calls them, “utopian” boats.The idea was conceived a long time ago and is present in her personal and professional engagement, learning and exploring the maritime world. Her research, which encompasses all the women who have participated in the maritime world throughout history to the present, is presented in the form of interventions into maritime museums, allowing the parallel “unofficial – women’s history” that was also present but “wasn’t visible” to be read alongside the official maritime history. These testimonies are mostly recorded in newspaper articles or published memoirs, says Matea.

Between 2009 and 2019, Matea gathered experiences maintaining a wooden leut, researching the role of women in the maritime world. However, around 2018, Matea started the project “BRODI/ONA” through which she builds realistic and functional ship models, intervening in the world of contemporary maritime museums.

I build the boats mostly from recycled wood, which I then protect with epoxy resin. They are powered by the synergy of man and nature, using oars and sails, ecologically, not encroaching on the environment with noise or propulsion, completely immersed in the landscape. The boats are functional, navigable, 4.5 meters long, with 2 masts, and burgundy sails,” Matea explains .

The work is procedural, from the idea and intention in 2010 as a response to the experience of owning and maintaining a wooden boat, responding to a provocation from a master where a BROOM actually provoked me, encouraged me to independently build my own boat or a whole fleet of boats in honor of maritime heroines… to establishing the possibilities of acquiring knowledge, space, working conditions, and tools. Since 2018, I have been building the fleet BRODI/ONA (SHE/SHIPS, meaning: she sails) in my studio RADI/ONA (SHE/WORKS meaning: her workshop) in the heart of Zagreb on the thin line between artistic and practical, creating a functional art installation, a fleet dedicated to maritime heroines, which, besides asking “Is there a place for women in the maritime world?” with an artistic gesture, decision, organization, and work: with my hands, I create a “parallel world-news-history,” redefining the world of maritime.The initiative Matea introduced us to in October of this year is an artistic action called “We Collect Hammers” or “Every Use of Tools is an Act of Honesty,” calling for action to establish the museum of shipbuilding in Korčula. Within the next year, Korčula will be the home of her new project BRODI/ONA: “There was one…” within which the entire fleet built so far will be presented in honor of women who, despite bans and prejudices, sailed the seas, built ships, and explored the marine world. For the exhibition in Korčula, she will build and name the ninth boat in honor of a historical heroine from Korčula, with a Korčula godmother.

The exhibition in Korčula will be realized in collaboration with the Association for Interdisciplinary and Intercultural Research (UIII), the Association for the Promotion of Human Rights and Civic Activism (KAP Korčula), and the Cultural Center Korčula.

Regarding research on Korčula during 2023 as a precursor to the exhibition, Matea was interested in: Which Korčula women built ships, sailed the seas, and explored the marine world throughout history to the present? We know that on the island, for hundreds of years, ships were diligently and very quality built. Hundreds of shipbuilders, caulkers, and various masters have lived shipbuilding for generations, for a full eight hundred years since the first preserved document (actually much more), but we don’t have much data on women who participated in shipbuilding and navigation… Owners and co-owners of ships have been recorded in historical records, even of large 19th-century sailing ships, wives of captains or ship owners… There are interesting personalities, but not everything was written down, and certainly not everything was thoroughly researched, so we went on a quest: we looked for Korčula female shipbuilders, sailors, captains, sailors, ship owners, engineers, sailors, etc. We researched available literature and materials in the State Collection Archive in Žrnovo. In this search, we crossed the island from top to bottom. We talked to people, encountered interesting personalities and stories… When asked by the people of Korčula if they knew or remembered Korčula women who built ships or sailed the seas, or knew the story of one, at first, people would think, saying that there weren’t really women who built ships, and they don’t know any who sailed the seas… But through conversation, they would remember; oh yes, there was one…

We eagerly await the continuation of Matea’s story and invite all who want to join the action of collecting hammers as a call to the Korčula shipbuilding museum to visit us at the Museum of Betina Wooden Shipbuilding and donate a hammer!


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