The Sworn Virgins

Photographer Jill Peters discusses a vanishing 500-year-old tradition in her “Burnesha of Albania” public art exhibition on Bal Harbour Village’s interactive beach path, on view until October 30.

Shedding light on an ancient practice, photographer Jill Peters captures an intriguing culture in “Burnesha of Albania."

By Christie Galeano-DeMott

What are burneshas? Burneshas, Albanian for sworn virgins, are women who live as men and are granted the rights of men in exchange for a vow of eternal celibacy.

The tradition was a social construct not fueled by gender identity. Women were property. Freedoms like working and driving were reserved for men. This oath elevated a woman to the status of a man, enabling her to be free and to take care of her family. These
women sacrificed romance and children for survival and family honor. It’s a very high price to pay.

“Shkurtan” by Jill Peters.

How did you get involved with the Unscripted Bal Harbour public art program? Curator Claire Breukel loved the historical context and pedagogical subject matter of the project. It’s my first public art exhibition and the first time the entire collection is on display.

“Qamile’s ID” by Jill Peters.

What do you hope spectators take away from your installation? It’s a reminder to respect sexuality—it’s not black or white. Plus, only a handful of burneshas remain, and they are part of history. This isn’t a wonky archeological tour but rather a personal journey into the lives of amazing people.

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2018 Issue.

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