This article discusses the memorialisation and reinterpretation of Sibylle Bergemann’s photographs through the archive which is administered by her daughter, Frieda von Wild, and granddaughter, Lily von Wild. Bergemann was a renowned German photographer in the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and one of the few photographers to quickly rise to prominence after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Her photographs form part of museum collections worldwide, among-st others, Tate Modern, London, or MoMA, New York. Nevertheless, Bergemann’s photographs are treated almost exclusively in the context of ‘dissident’ photography, thus being confined to a recently concluded German past. Frieda and Lily von Wild are trying to change that narrative, releasing the photographer from this art historical prerogative of interpretation. Through the archive, the two women are trying to shift the emphasis from the GDR to Germany, yet the question arises of whether a change is indeed necessary? With being excluded from Western art historiography, would a removal from a Central and Eastern European background not turn Bergemann into a ‘lost’ woman artist, reinforcing the marginalisation of her work? Thereby, issues of respective strategies of memory emerge, of questioning the role of archivist, art historian and the broader political and social context the photographic œuvre is embedded in. How can the discussion of Bergemann as an East German photographer contribute to a feminist (re)reading of women artists in Central and Eastern Europe?
Anne Pfautsch is a PhD candidate and associate lecturer at Kingston University London. Her thesis focuses on the Ostkreuz Agency of Photographers and scrutinizes the impact of documentary photography from the German Democratic Republic on contemporary practice. Her article The
Function of Documentary Photography from the German Democratic Republic as Substitute Public was published in the journal Humanities in 2018. Anne’s research interests include photography, culture and gender politics in late and post-Soviet times, memory and identity, and feminist and Marxist
methodologies in art history. She also works as a freelance curator of contemporary art and photography, including such exhibitions as La condition humaine (co-curated with the Ostkreuz Association of Photography, La Vieille église Saint-Vincent, Bordeaux) and Postindustriale (Tapetenwerk, Leipzig).