Streetwise put the situation of homeless women in the public eye and so forged a connection with Bertha Pappenheim’s own commitment to helping women in precarious situations.
There are more than 70,000 women living on the streets in Germany today. Being homeless is hard for anyone—but women face more risks than men. They suffer violence more often, also sexualized violence, also at the hands of homeless men. Many homeless women move around solo. They take care of their clothing and personal hygiene, as best they can. Women in general are more harshly judged by their appearance. And these women also want to keep their fate secret. No one should see that they are homeless. They feel safer that way.
In the first part of Streetwise, in October–November 2017, Elianna Renner did a photo shoot with homeless women in Frankfurt city center. The latter were invited to select one of Bertha Pappenheim’s published aphorisms—her so-called “Denkzettel”—and write it on a sign; and then to complement it, by writing on a second sign some worldly wisdom of their own. The pairs of signs were then photographed.
The second part of Streetwise, in February 2018, consisted of a workshop on Pappenheim’s life and work for the guests of two social centers for homeless women and other people in difficult situations, Ost 17 and Teestube Jona. After a lecture on Bertha Pappenheim, the participants made collages under Renner’s guidance. The thirty-five collages were photographed and presented as a slide show during the third and final part of Streetwise.
This third part of Streetwise was an art happening that gave the public a taste of homeless women’s experience by exploring their dependence on handouts and food banks. Jointly conceived and realized by Elianna Renner (Bremen) and Sandra Knecht (Basel), the art happening led the artists to the Frankfurter Tafel [the local branch of a nationwide charity that daily distributes free food to the needy], where for several days they helped sort and parcel food, and dish up meals. Then, drawing on the Tafel’s leftovers as well as on “expired” and other food donated especially for the art happening by local businesses, the artists designed a three-course menu which they shared out on a first come, first served basis at a closing reception on Paulsplatz [Square] on 28 June 2018. A very mixed crowd of around seventy people took a seat at the long table to enjoy some lively conversation and good food.