Women in German Expressionism: Gender, Sexuality, Activism
Edited by Anke Finger (University of Connecticut) and Julie Shoults (Muhlenberg College)
German Expressionism has been dominated by the works of males—in the visual arts and literary texts, as well as in the secondary literature. The movement was largely defined through poetry included in Kurt Pinthus’s seminal collection Menschheitsdämmerung (1920), in which Else Lasker-Schüler was the sole female voice to appear alongside many key male figures. Despite the excavation of Expressionist works by women in recent decades, scholarly research on these artworks and texts remains lacking. Few female Expressionists in the German context have received sustained attention, except for Lasker-Schüler and, to some degree, Claire Goll and Henriette Hardenberg. As a result, works by male artists and authors continue to characterize the canon a century after the Expressionist decade of 1910-1920.
Although female figures are prevalent in the works of male Expressionists, particularly in the roles of the New Woman, mother, and prostitute, their possibilities for self-expression and self-sufficiency are decidedly limited in these works. The proposed collection of articles will explore females’ self-conceptions and representations of women’s roles in society in their own Expressionist works. Oskar Kokoschka’s depiction of a brutal “battle of the sexes” in his 1907 play Mörder, Hoffnung der Frauen introduced a motif that was taken up by many male Expressionists. But how did women interpret this “battle” and depict gender relations? How did women approach themes commonly considered to be characteristic of the Expressionist movement, and did they address other themes or aesthetics and styles not currently represented in the canon? How do the language and imagery employed by female Expressionists compare to that of their male counterparts? Is the historical and socio-political context reflected differently in the writings of females and males? In what ways do intersections of race, class and gender play a role? Finally, how might the consideration of female texts and artworks enrich our understanding and/or alter our definition of German Expressionism? Do current perceptions and receptions of German Expressionism shift once the works of woman artists and authors are more thoroughly taken into consideration?
This collection of critical essays will explore these and other questions, deepening nascent inquiries into female Expressionists. Most importantly, this collection seeks to broaden the theorization, scholarship, and reception of German Expressionism by—finally and much belatedly—including works by women, and by shifting or redefining firmly established concepts and topics carrying only the imprint of male authors and artists to this day. While there is renewed interest in women artists of the period, the female authors remain largely unknown, unpublished, and unexamined. This presents a significant and alarming gap in the research and reception of German Expressionism, as women authors were prolific, right alongside the much-discussed male figures, and the archives are full of their materials. However, since the canon has fossilized German Expressionism as marked by a number of characteristics devoid of female voices or advanced gender theorization, very few have challenged this staid reception. This collection aims to present and analyze these voices, integrate them into the canon productively and thereby change the reception of and future scholarship on German Expressionism in the 21st century.