Preteen Girls Dismantle the Patriarchy, One Car at a Time

Artist Dina Rončević’s Car Deconstructions series turns horsepower into girl power via auto mechanic training.

The artist performing one of her Car Deconstructions

The inside of a car mechanic’s garage is an unlikely domain for art, but Dina Rončević disagrees. The Amsterdam-based artist and car mechanic uses old junkyard cars as a canvas for her creativity. Using mechanic’s tools, she deconstructs cars down to their skeleton parts.

“I did the first deconstruction because I just wanted to see what the car would look like on the inside; I wasn’t allowed to do that when I was training to be a mechanic,” Rončević told The Guardian. “I had two bosses; one kept calling me stupid because I’m a woman and the other one was hitting on me. They would only let me hold the torch and clean the floor. So I thought; fine, I’ll do it in an art way.”

Since then, Rončević has been staging public deconstructions of cars and inviting women and girls to disassemble them with her. The first of her series, Car Deconstructions, took place in Finland at 2012’s ANTI Contemporary Art Festival, where the artist invited girls between the ages of 10 and 14 to help dismantle a Volkswagen Beetle. She’s organized three other similar deconstructions, with women of all ages, at various queer and feminist festivals in Bosnia, Austria, and her birth country of Croatia. Her next performance starts October 3 in Birmingham, England, at Fierce, an international festival for performance and visual arts. This time, she’s calling on the assistance of seven girls, between the ages of 10 and 12. The participants will receive basic instruction from the artist beforehand.

“Young girls, who aren’t yet defined by their gender roles, will play with anything that you give them,” Rončević told IdeasMag. “It’s amazing to think that these girls, for the rest of their lives, will be able to say, ‘I deconstructed a car when I was 10.’”

Rončević became a car mechanic as part of her final project for the Art Academy of Zagreb, Croatia. Her experience training as a mechanic and interacting with misogynistic or belittling mentors certainly informs Car Deconstructions. There is an explicit feminist intent in Rončević’s project. As a woman, the act of occupying a male-dominated space—the mechanic’s garage—calls into question the gender roles that traditionally exclude women from those spaces.

Car Deconstructions is not about cars, it’s not about tools. It’s about women’s attitude,” she said.

But the project might also provoke a conversation on class. Blue-collar professions, like automobile mechanics, are generally perceived as artless pursuits. Manual labor—and much of what is considered blue-collar work—is often gendered as well, evoking a notion of traditional masculinity. In Car Deconstructions, young girls are encouraged to develop those skills through their own creative exploration of the car. They can use whatever tools they deem necessary.

“What turned out quite surprising for me was the enthusiasm that girls showed while working,” Rončević wrote on her blog. “They understood the tools, a way to use them, and the force they had to apply on the material quite quickly and started working like crazy, went to the tool box by them selves [sic] and searched for adequate tools. It was amazing.”