press release

The Medea Insurrection
Medea: femme fatale and überwoman from the east. An escape into mythology? Not with her! Granted, in the years before 1989, writers and painters in East Germany often turned to codes of ancient mythology when they wanted to express their discontent with the communist rule. And indeed, all of the women artists presented here came to maturity on the socialist side of the Iron Curtain. Yet their interpretations of female figures—even if based on Medea, Cassandra or Penthesilea—were not exactly noble forms of encryption; on the contrary, many of their works were crucial in shaping contemporary images of women, and sometimes they were straight-up punk. Underneath the radar of the accepted artistic media, these women artists provoked, protested, played with fire and experimented, baring themselves and their rage whilst refusing socialist and bourgeois role models alike.

With this double refusal they were exposing themselves often to more risk than their male colleagues. This compounded degree of defiance and energy in their pictorial language makes itself felt still today: In the creations of the Berlin performance and fashion group Allerleihrauh (All-kinds-of-fur; after a Grimm fairy tale), rarely exhibited so far, we discover an unbridled, performative revolt. Visual dissidence also shaped the works of visual artists: In Dresden, artists such as Angela Hampel, Christine Schlegel, Cornelia Schleime and Karla Woisnitza infused rebellious ancient female figures with attributes of punk and their present; in Thuringia, the Erfurt women artists’ group made experimental films about female identity. In East Berlin, photographers such as Gundula Schulze Eldowy and Tina Bara photographed the crumbling of a state, inspired by older colleagues such as Evelyn Richter and Sibylle Bergemann.

How can the singularity of these artistic responses to authoritarian constraints be honoured? Until now, the emphasis has been on comparisons with the post-1945 Western art canon or on mere references within the rather narrow historical context of East Germany. Now the time has come to consider this art within the similar situation of the “former East”: The Medea Insurrection examines those territories with a socialist structure where the conditions for artistic freedom (or rather its absence) resembled those in East Germany. A readiness to take risks, a talent for improvisation, self-irony, categorical reinterpretation of classical materials and motifs: these are by far not the only connecting points between creatives such as textile artist Magdalena Abakanowicz (Poland) and Christa Jeitner (Germany), or between the two performance artists Katalin Ladik (Hungary) and Gabriele Stötzer (Germany). The Polish female farmers as photographed by Zofia Rydet (Poland) over the course of several decades are joined here by female workers portrayed by Evelyn Richter in East German factories. Gundula Schulze Eldowy’s iconic series Tamerlan, on the dignity and beauty of age, also connects to Rydet’s portrait of elderly women—presented here for the first time ever. For the recently deceased Geta Bratescu (Romania), the figure of Medea was the trigger for her long engagement with the subject of female energy, which is now good company for Karla Woisnitza’s (Germany) rebellious drawings on the same subject. And when we encounter Zorka Saglova’s (Czech Republic) performances from the dark time after the Prague Spring, we instinctively draw parallels to the 1980s, when Else Gabriel (Germany) and Hanne Wandtke (Germany) carried out risky performance experiments as part of the Dresden group Autoperforationsartisten.

The exhibition stages a polyphonic, timeless choir of artistic and intellectual affinities and radical means of self-actualization in inhospitable climates. Medea kicks back against the forgetfulness of recent art history and the marginalization of female perspectives. Far from gestures of victimhood and scenarios of resentment, the exhibition celebrates strength, self-assurance, resilience and, above all, artistic quality.

The exhibition is curated by Susanne Altmann.

Tina Bara (1962), Annemirl Bauer (1939 - 1989), Sibylle Bergemann (1941 - 2010), Else Gabriel (1962), Angela Hampel (1956), Christa Jeitner (1935), Mode- und Performancegruppe Allerleirauh, Angelika Kroker (1957) Künstlerinnengruppe Erfurt mit u.a. Monika Andres (1962) und Verena Kyselka (1957), Evelyn Richter (1930), Christine Schlegel (1950), Gundula Schulze Eldowy (1954), Cornelia Schleime (1953), Gabriele Stötzer (1953), Erika Stürmer-Alex (1938), Karla Woisnitza (1952), Hanne Wandtke (1939), Doris Ziegler (1949)

Magdalena Abakanowicz (1930 - 2017, PL), Geta Brătescu (1926 - 2018, RO), Orshi Drozdik (1946, HU), Judit Kele (1944, HU), Magdalena Jetelová (1946, CSSR), Katalin Ladik (1942, HU), Běla Kolářová (1923 - 2010, CSSR), Alena Kučerová (1923, CSSR), Zofia Kulik (1947, PL), Natalia LL (1937, PL), Ana Lupas (1940, RO), Dora Maurer (1936, HU), Ewa Partum (*1945, PL/D), Zofia Rydet (1911-1997, PL), Adriena Šimotová (1926 - 2014, CSSR), Zorka Ságlová (1942 - 2003, CSSR), Alina Szapocznikow (1926 - 1973, PL)