Dr. April Eisman, Associate Professor of Visual Art and Culture at Iowa State University, will deliver the annual Paul G. and Ernestine G. Hatcher Lecture in WKU’s Department of Modern Languages on Tuesday (April 14).
The talk will take place at 4 p.m. at the Faculty House and is titled Wild Women of the 1980’s: Neoexpressionist Painting on Both Sides of the Berlin Wall. The campus and community are invited to attend. A reception will begin at 3:30 p.m. Dr. Eisman will compare the lives and artwork of two highly successful women of this era, Angela Hampel (East Germany) and Elvira Bach (West Germany). Both artists focused on images of wild women – from Cassandra and Penthesilea to party goers and punks. They paint with bright colors and expressive brushwork but to very different ends. Their art offers insight into the differing art worlds in which they worked and the role of women in the two Germanys in the final decade of the Cold War. Dr. Laura McGee, Head of the Department of Modern Languages, interviewed Dr. Eisman about her research in advance of her visit to WKU. McGee: How did you get interested in this topic? Eisman: I was doing an internship on an Ernst Ludwig Kirchner exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 2000. While there, I encountered a number of murals by East German artists in the basement of the former Akademie der Künste (Ost) Berlin that surprised me. Inspired by modern artists like Max Beckmann, they didn’t fit my expectations for East German art. I was also surprised that I didn’t know the name of a single East German artist despite having an MA in German art, and that I hadn’t realized this gap in my knowledge before that moment. When I returned to the US and started doing research, I realized this gap was widespread among Anglo-American scholars. McGee: You must have done extensive research in Germany on this topic. Eisman: Yes, I have been going to Germany almost every summer since 2001 to do research on East German art. I have also spent two years there, in Berlin in 2004-2005 (Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies) and in Leipzig in 2012-2013 (American Association of University Women). My shift to doing research on women artists started in earnest in 2012, although I have been collecting data on the topic from the beginning, as it was my initial focus when I began my doctoral work in 2001. McGee: Did you find you needed German language skills to research this topic? Eisman: Absolutely. This topic is virtually non-existent in English. The archival research and interviews were all in German. McGee: Why are these painters important? Eisman: Hampel and Bach allow us to see how the art on both sides of the wall converged over the decades. A comparison of their work stands as a corrective to the common assumption that the east did not have art (i.e. the belief that it was all just political propaganda, kitsch, socialist realism, etc.) A comparison of the differences enables us to better understand how the two countries — which were the same country until 1945 — differed as a result of politics, and how those differences affected people, in this case, artists. It also allows us to see the specific challenges that women faced in these two countries. McGee: How will your talk relate to Germany today, 25 years after the fall of the Wall? Eisman: This talk is important now because the stereotypes about East Germany, often based on Cold War antagonisms, have started to solidify and thus need to be re-examined before even more information is lost. Also, East German art allows us a unique vantage point from which to understand the West’s development since 1945/49 and our assumptions about art, gender, and politics. Additionally, these artists stand as a challenge to the idea that only men are artists or painters. McGee: It sounds fascinating. We look forward to learning more about German art and German history through your talk. Thank you! The annual Paul G. and Ernestine G. Hatcher Modern Language Lecture Series is made possible through a gift by Dr. Graham Hatcher in honor of his parents, Dr. Paul G. and Ernestine G. Hatcher. Dr. Paul G. Hatcher, Professor of Spanish, taught at WKU for 27 years, and served as Head of the Department of Modern Languages from 1959 to 1965. He was the first Dean of Potter College and also the first Director of International Programs at WKU. The Department of Modern Languages is very grateful for this gift. Contact: Department of Modern Languages, (270) 745-2401.