Tuesday, September 11, 2012

woman in the metropolis

I stumbled upon the work of Jeanne Mammen completely by chance whilst researching German Expressionist painting a year or two ago. I ran a Google Images search of her work and instantly liked what I saw; so much so that a work of hers featured on my blog header for sometime.

Mammen was an illustrator much more than a painter. An exquisite draftswoman, her drawings are delicately rendered with washes of colour and scrawling pencil marks often still visible. However, her works are never merely pretty, but subtly and very skilfully provide a unique insight into 1920s/30s Berlin society.

Frau mit Katze
Die Grossstadt, 1927

She Represents, 1927
Chiefly, Mammen's work concerns women: particularly female oppression, and the frequently secret lives experienced by urban socialites. In this sense, Mammen befits my own specific art historical interests immensely. Her work takes an intimate look at the independent lives of the fashionable flapper types of the era - the Garçonne - and was especially intrigued by the extreme 'third gender type' - women who sported cropped hair-dos and preferred masculine dress-suits and monocles - and female-only company, spending their leisure time in Berlin's many lesbian bars and clubs. Mammen's women are frequently depicted as independent; drinking, smoking, 'testing the outer limits of emancipation'  .

Kamaval, 1931
Mammen's creation of this female-only sphere is fascinating. Her illustrations and paintings reveal not only power patterns and structures faced by women in the period, but they provide a vision of a world that operates outside male influence. On a more personal level, I really enjoy her depictions of female dress-up; be it glam society women, or these 'third gender' types. In this sense, her work is playful in a manner that anticipates the sort of female performance explored by postmodern artists, most specifically Cindy Sherman.   A further reminder of the shifting, non-fixed nature of female identity. 

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