East Germany’s hidden LGBTQ life uncovered in Wittdorf exhibition

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An exhibition of over 250 art pieces created during the communist era (1949-1990) by the deceased East German artist, Jürgen Wittdorf (1932 – 2018), has been a success.

The exhibit has attracted more than 20,000 visitors since it opened last month in Biesdorf Castle, a suburb far from Berlin’s historic city centre.

At a time when sexual freedom is under renewed attack around the world, even amongst EU democracies like Hungary or Romania, Wittdorf’s work is enjoying a renaissance four years after his death. ©AFP

In the year of his 90th birthday, Jürgen Wittdorf’s works will be on display for the first time in a comprehensive retrospective at Schloss Biesdorf.

As an artist in the GDR, Wittdorf was known to many as an illustrator of various books. His works, including countless masterful woodcuts, are characterised by the concept of realism of the time, but his depictions of young people initially met with little approval from the state authorities, who found this view of youth too Westernised.

The latter, in turn, found themselves in Wittdorf’s pictures.

Later they were printed and distributed in large numbers. His own existence as a gay man is also reflected in these works. Although homosexuality was no longer punishable by law after 1968, it was still not socially accepted, and Wittdorf himself could not admit his sexuality for a long time.

From today’s perspective, his works are more than a contemporary document in the field of tension between the socially fixed norms of the GDR and his very personal view of this society.

Jürgen Wittdorf’s artworks also stand for an artist’s life that was hardly noticed after the fall of the Wall.

A large part of his extensive oeuvre can now be seen at Schloss Biesdorf, complemented by contemporary positions by Veneta Androva, Norbert Bisky, Harry Hachmeister and Bettina Semmer.

Artstic director of the Palace Schloss Biesdorf Karin Scheel (L) and co-curator Stephan Koal pose at the exhibition by German artist Juergen Wittdorf in the Biesdorf Palace in Berlin, Germany, on October 17, 2022. Credit line: Profimedia

In the works of these artists, themes such as gender and artificial intelligence (Veneta Androva), beauty, sexuality, violence and destruction (Norbert Bisky), (gender) identities, bodies and their attributions (Harry Hachmeister), and bodies as an element of political action (Bettina Semmer) are negotiated.

The visual dialogue with these positions places Wittdorf’s work in a new context, creates connections between his often only hinted at themes and current social discussions on the many facets of human individuality.

Curated by Stephan Koal and Karin Scheel. (Via Schloss Biesdorf)

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