Stimmen! 100 Years of Women’s Suffrage




Civil Society

Curated by GDL member Julie August

The German term “Stimmen” can be translated to voice or vote in English. It is the title for an exhibition displayed from February 20 to March 24 at the Willy-Brandt-Haus, in Berlin; open to visitors from Tuesday to Sunday, 12-18h free of charge.

Displayed are the works of 17 female artists: Caroline Armand, Anna Borgman, Judith Brunner, Ina Geißler, Andrea Golla, Andrea Hartinger, Susanne Kienbaum, Rachel Kohn, Hye Young Kim, Uschi Niehaus, Zuzanna Schmukalla, Annette Selle, Anja Sonnenburg, Beate Selzer, Marianne Stoll, Regina Weiss and Sibylla Weisweiler.

Read below the introduction from the exhibition’s catalogue by curator and GDL Member Julie August. It begins with the following citation of Marie Juchacz, the first female politician to address a German parliament:

“I would like to state here, and I believe that many agree with me on this issue, that we women do not owe this government a debt of gratitude in the traditional sense of the word. What this government has done was only a matter of course: giving women what had unjustly been denied to them before.”
Marie Juchacz, 1919

Introduction to “STIMMEN!” by Julie August

On 19 February 1919, a hundred years ago, the Social Democrat Marie Juchacz became the first woman to make a speech before the Weimar National Assembly, and emphasized right away she by no means intended to give special thanks for something that is simply her (natural) right: to have as much to say in life as any man.
From 19 February 2019 on, 17 women artist of the Frauenmuseum Berlin put their works on display on the second floor of the renowned Willy-Brandt-Haus. And we do indeed have to thank the courageous women who were trailblazers for the equal participation in society and culture that we now take for granted. We thank the women from different political camps who already a hundred years ago rose to speak, took to the streets, united with other combatants (i.e. networked), who risked quarrels with their spouses and families. We wouldn’t be where we are today without these courageous leaders and their persuasive argumentation. Each decade of the past century, right up to now, has seen women who fought for the implementation of their rights – partly favoured by, partly in opposition to the prevailing political situations:
We would not have been allowed to study, certainly not at an art college; as married women we would not have been able to take up paid employment without asking our husband’s permission; and if we decided to become teachers, we would have had to abstain from having children (while lacking the right to have an abortion, of course!). It would have been just as unthinkable to live together with a partner out of wedlock — even less with a female partner. And we would have had to endure as ‘conjugal duties’ what can now be reported to the police as domestic violence.

Unbelievable? Indeed. According to Article 3, Paragraph 2 of the Basic law for the Federal Republic of Germany, which became effective in 1949, “men and women shall have equal rights.” Still, its full implementation is lacking almost everywhere. Even today we have not reached all of our goals in the patriarchal society that has socialized us, and whose rules we quietly accept without noticing. It is annoying that books like “Warum Frauen nicht einparken können” (“Why Women Can’t Park Cars”) or similarly clichéd titles can become bestsellers; or that people who are vexed by this are regarded as lacking a sense of humour. And it is simply unbearable that in 2018 women still earn 21% less on average than their male colleagues. Speaking for the art world, people spend significantly more on works by male artists than on comparable works by female ones; even those galleries which represent many women artists tend to bank on their male »cash cows« at art fairs; male artists get to have significantly more solo exhibitions in important museums; many qualified women work in museums but mostly in the communication of art or administration. The list could go on indefinitely… Needless to say, there are professional fields with even less gender equality than the art world.

And yet, we accept many injustices without protest. Is it because emancipated women and ‘women libbers’ (‘Emanzen’) are regarded as ‘bluestockings’ and ‘unsexy’? Because it is ‘unwomanly’ to voice your demands? Because we are in it not for the money but for the right cause? Because we do not want to risk an argument or to squander our time in endless discussions? Yet: do we make any progress in this way? Are we aware of our responsibility in society, not just for our immediate surroundings but also for women in other countries and cultures?
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” Thus, the black feminist Audre Lorde makes clear: Even if I regard my own personal life as self-determined and equal, this is no reason to sit back and do nothing, especially since there are reactionary forces at work right now around the world who challenge what we have achieved so far. We all have the duty to campaign for emancipation and equality not to be a luxury or privilege – even if the commitment to equal rights can be life-endangering: The young black politician and activist Marielle Franco was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in May of 2018 shortly after giving one of her charismatic speeches. Audre Lorde’s quote was one of her mottoes.

With STIMMEN! 17 women artists of the Frauenmuseum Berlin want to be seen and heard with their works. The German title is already an imperative that prompts active (political) participation. Most of the artists partaking in the exhibition do not ‘normally’ work in a political way and had to feel their way into a concrete thematic connection with their artistic expression, and how their involvement with women’s suffrage and feminism could be realized formally.
Most of the works were produced specifically for this exhibition. Many different media are present: painting, drawing, collage, photography, and installations; the content too has a broad range. Autobiographically motivated works stand alongside dialogues with historical figures, symbolical interpretations are accompanied by participatory projects.

Women artists want to be seen and heard in a comprehensive cultural view and according to their percentage in society at that. This results in concrete demands: Women artists need to have the possibility to work in an adequate way, they need affordable studios near their homes as well as dry and safe storage facilities. They need funding, not just up to the age of 40 or as long as they are ‘emerging’. Especially those who have children are often ‘late’ to access the art market. They need to be paid for their exhibitions – not just in Berlin. They need opportunities for wage labour and childcare which enable them to stay longer at artist residencies, and flexible (work) leave for constructing exhibitions … And so on.

We’ve all heard this before, one and another time. But – until we don’t achieve our goals we’ll have to put those demands on the agenda, again and again, no matter if some consider us always repeating the same “old things”.

Anybody who has further demands is welcome to voice them either directly in the ‘Feminist Corner’ or to integrate them in Susanne Kienbaum’s installation so they can be voted on.

Culture is an important part of our society, and to promote culture is nothing for which men or women artist “owe a debt of gratitude in the traditional sense of the word”, to paraphrase Marie Juchacz. Still, we would like to thank all who have made this exhibition possible, who have found solutions and helped us in word and deed, who have reflected and discussed with us.


About the author:

Julie August is a graphic designer and art curator with strong interests in social and human rights issues, working for publishing houses and architects as well as cultural and social projects while also organizing exhibitions and collaborations with contemporary artists.

Published on March 04, 2019.

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