"Art was our lifeline": the GDR's creative rebels

Painted photo of Cornelia Schleime, taken by Gabriele Stötzer,  1981

Gabriele Stötzer is a really remarkable artist and writer who deserves to be much more widely known. I interviewed her for this piece in the Economist on the GDR's rebel artists, who created incredibly bold, funny, provocative, fearless art that challenged the surveillance state.

Stötzer was imprisoned as a young woman, in her early 20s. Until then, she thought she'd go to university, get a normal job, etc etc. But in prison, she decided to become an artist. Here are a couple of extracts that didn't make it into the final piece, but that stayed with me long after the interview:

"If you think about it, everyone has certain childhood dreams that just go away at some point. And when I was in prison, I'd lost everything, and then I remembered: oh, you used to want to make art. And now you've lost everything anyway... when you get out, you'll be poor, you'll have nothing. So you might as well make art."

"I wasn't afraid. After prison, I wasn't afraid of anything anymore. And it was clear to me that I wouldn't stop."

Christine Schlegel, Rollo (painted window blind),  1983-84

(About painting on window blinds and concertina books, like many other underground artists at the time):

"We didn't have official exhibitions. They'd take place in a church, a flat, you'd send out invites saying we're having a birthday party, or a christening... I'd go there, unroll (the folded paper), pin it to the wall, and take it down again. It had a certain performative character... and it was about evanescence. Because we didn't actually exist at all... It was an existential cry. The Stasi wanted to destabilise, isolate, spread loneliness, silence people, or drive them into suicide. It was everywhere, this extinguishing. Sometimes I didn't know who I was. So I made my own pottery, just to know: I am. And I ate from my plates and drank from my cups. You know, sometimes one was so desperate and isolated and alone. That was also why one needed groups. They made me believe that I was. And that I was an artist."

Hope you enjoy the piece! And do visit the Dieselkraftwerk in Cottbus if you get the chance. It's easily accessible by train from Berlin, and as I mention in the article, has art from the GDR era that you won't see anywhere else. There is so much more to discover!

Annemirl Bauer, Woman and Child behind Bars and Barbed Wire, 1985