Defiance Exhibition Reveals Subversive Women's Art in East Germany

A new Mannheim exhibition explores the subversive art of women in 1980s East Germany. The works highlight the surprising degree of rebellion simmering in the subculture of the communist society shortly before its demise.

It turns out that not everything emerging from East German studios was the officially approved "Socialist Realism." Some 21 years after the fall of the communist regime, a Mannheim art museum is spotlighting a surprising array of subversive and critical works by women behind the Iron Curtain.

Many of the works by the show's 10 artists reflect on the role of women and their realities within the communist state. Given the strict surveillance of the East German government over the art scene, the very existence of these photographs, paintings, films, collages, graphics and installations is rather remarkable, organizers at the Kuntshalle Mannheim say.

Curator Susanne Altmann told SPIEGEL that she searched for "perceptions of women that deviate from the officially encouraged ideological canon in the German Democratic Republic" -- ideas from the subculture of the state, far from traditional agricultural and domestic duties.

Independent of the West

The show, entitled "Entdeckt! Rebellische Künstlerinnen in der DDR," or "Discovered, Rebellious Women Artists in the GDR," begins next month and focuses specifically on avant-garde works from the 1980s and claims to be the first of its kind in former West Germany. Subversive female artists remain "a barely researched or publicized aspect of GDR art history," the museum said in a statement.

While the works fit "seamlessly" into international developments of feminist art created during the 1980s, they are unique because they emerged independent of Western developments.

"The awakening did not occur against the background of a feminist discourse, but from a universal need for revolt -- not just against male-dominated art and society, but also against the communist state and its everyday restrictions," the museum, in the southwestern state of Baden-Württemberg, said.

"Entdeckt! Rebellische Künstlerinnen in der DDR" runs from July 2 to October 9 at the Kunsthalle Mannheim



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