Introductions: Biz Nijdam — Member at Large
Hi! My name is Elizabeth Nijdam – though everyone calls me Biz — and I am a Member-At-Large on the Executive Board for the CSS Graduate Student Caucus. I am also a Doctoral Candidate in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor working on German-speaking comics as well as the Secretary for the International Comic Arts Forum’s Executive Committee. My dissertation traces the artistic and political legacies of the German Democratic Republic into the comics of unified Germany by examining the art of several East German graphic artists who began working in the medium after 1989. My primary focus are the comics of Anke Feuchtenberger, which I examine through the lens of the politics surrounding German unification and within the context of East German artistic traditions. As the primary artist collaborating with the activists of the East German Independent Women’s Association, East German feminist politics, opposing unification and rallying for East German reform, informed Feuchtenberger’s artistic production, connecting politics to her art and vice versa. I therefore investigate the thematic influence of Feuchtenberger’s unification politics and feminist poster art on her early sequential art before turning to Feuchtenberger’s aesthetics, which I situate in the terms of Hillary Chute’s book project Graphic Women, the politics of German Expressionism and the East German theatrical avant-garde. I interpret Feuchtenberger’s art as inextricably autobiographical and argue that, in line with Hilary Chute’s analysis of feminine graphic autobiography’s idiom of witness, Feuchtenberger sets up a visual language of self-representation that engages French feminist theory on feminine writing “in order to embody individual and collective experience, to put contingent selves and histories into form.” Dealing more with intimate relationships than public debates on gender equality, Feuchtenberger’s comics examine the power dynamics that exist between men and women from an autobiographical perspective. Existing at the intersection of history and autobiography, Feuchtenberger’s posters and comics collapse the personal and the public, integrating the artist herself into debates on women’s rights and the post-unification politics of gender through abstracted autobiography, graphic female sexuality and explicit subject matter.
The flourishing comics and graphic art culture around 1989 and the prominence of East German artists within this scene has not received much scholarly attention, yet this visual culture and its accompanying aesthetics tell us something important about the fate of East German artistic practice after unification. Looking at comics collectives PGH Glühende Zukunft (1989-1993), Renate (1989-) and monogatari (1999-2005), my dissertation illustrates that East German artistic traditions were not always subjugated to western capitalist modes of production after 1989 and that East German artists, trained under the doctrines of socialist realism, nourished by socialist notions of public art and engaged in traditional printmaking techniques obsolete in West German art academies, radically altered aspects of the united German cultural landscape to produce an independent art comics scene that broadened the aesthetics of the medium, changed public opinion on the legitimacy of comics, and remains influential today.