Identity, Trauma, and Iconography: German Women’s War Art, 1914–24

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 3:30 PM
Virginia Suite A (Marriott Wardman Park)
Janice Miller, Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis
This paper seeks to identify the iconography of trauma and suffering in German women’s art during and after World War One. Specifically, it will concentrate on the aesthetic output of unmarried female artists without children, whose wartime experiences and reactions were not informed by maternal or spousal loss and sacrifice. I contend that this study of the visual vocabulary employed by these “surplus women”is crucial to an understanding of women's experiences of war. The war catalyzed societal reassessment of female agency in Germany. By rejecting domestic obligations in favor of artistic pursuits, unwed women disrupted the hegemonic regime of feminine-normative behavior. Analyzing the semiotics of trauma in the wartime art of such women reveals the significant impact of the conflict on those who had circumvented traditional gender expectations. German artist Gabriele Münter (1877-1962) epitomizes this category of woman. Unmarried and without children, Münter remained diligently active throughout the First World War. Her extensive oeuvre contains multiple images that embody her acute isolation and distress during the conflict. Throughout the decade after the ceasefire (1918-1928), the Germans had survived a small, yet robust revolution, an improper disarmament with devastating consequences, and catastrophic economic strife. Naturally, these events distorted the visual language employed by artists, so it is essential to limit the timeline. This paper explore the war war memory and art illustrate the trauma of war on the bodies of single women who defied historical and prescriptive expectations placed upon them by hegemonic, patriarchal social institutions.

[1] This term describes a demographic of young, unmarried, middle-class women. Catherine Dollard’s magnificent “The Surplus Woman: Unmarried in Imperial Germany, 1871-1918” (2009) examines this demographic from a social perspective, analyzing the competing feminist and anti-feminist interpretations of these unmarried women.

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