SMArt Talks

En plein air:

The Visibility of Women’s Work in the Interwar Avant-Garde and Antifascist Resistance

Meghan Forbes

6. 2. 2024
Hans Belting Library

Meghan Forbes works as a writer, researcher, curator, translator, and gardener. Her forthcoming monograph Technologies for the Revolution: The Czech Avant-Garde in Print offers a nuanced portrait of leftist art practices in Czechoslovakia in the interwar period and explores the ways in which the Devětsil group utilized the production of printed matter to forge networks of exchange across Europe. Dr. Forbes is currently co-curator of a retrospective exhibition on the photographer Lucia Moholy, opening at the Kunsthalle Praha in May 2024. She received her PhD from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and held postdoctoral fellowships at The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She is the sole editor of the volume International Perspectives on Publishing Platforms: Image, Object, Text (Routledge, 2019).

En plein air: The Visibility of Women’s Work in the Interwar Avant-Garde and Antifascist Resistance

This talk takes as its starting point the peculiar proliferation of photographic portraiture from the 1920s-1940s that captures women in motion outdoors. In particular, it features work of a set of dancers, teachers, and choreographers in Czechoslovakia, who performed for the Liberated Theater (Osvobozené divadlo) and went on to form their own companies, and thus platforms the little-considered work of women within the avant-garde. Such figures, like Míra Holzbachová and Nina Jirsíková, represent not only a legacy of the German dance reform movement in the early twentieth century in Prague and the local expression of the “New Woman,” but also reveal modes of political activism and resistance, as the former had to live in exile in the United States during the Second World War for her antifascist activities, and the latter survived the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she documented in pictures the life of her fellow prisoners there. As a counterpoint, the talk will also look from behind the camera lens, to consider the photographic portraiture of the Prague-born German Jewish writer and photographer Lucia Moholy (the subject of a retrospective exhibition opening at Kunsthalle Praha in May 2024), whose extensive portraiture includes pictures of herself, also outdoors and in a series of gymnastic movements, the authorship of these photos nevertheless contested in her oeuvre. Moholy too would have to abandon her life in Berlin in 1933 with the rise of National Socialism.

Through these various examples, this talk will offer a survey of a particular and dynamic photographic phenomenon of the interwar years and trace its intersection with stories of various forms of displacement and resistance through (self-)representation in Czechoslovakia and Germany in the 1920s-40s.

Image caption:

Holiday greeting, “War Christmas 1942.” Courtesy of the National Museum (Sbírka Národního muzea), fond Míra Holzbachová, file number H6p-3/85

All events