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Culture

Women in Arms

As a U.S.-led military invasion against Iraq looks ever more likely, a German exhibition exploring the role of women in war has opened in Bonn.

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The exhibition at Bonn's Women's Museum questions the role of women at war.

As the countdown to war begins and the media once again brings home haunting images of military personnel in army fatigues, risking their lives as they prepare to go into combat, a new exhibition in Bonn focuses on the role of women as soldiers and terrorists.

The show, "Women in Arms", at Bonn's Women's Museum opened last weekend and will run until April 27th before moving on to Vienna and Los Angeles. It features installations, paintings and video art by German, Serbian, Ukrainian and American artists who have all come up with an artistic response to the question: what role do women play in war?

But for those expecting a shocking exposé of women and war at the exhibition will be disappointed. Above all, the exhibition carries an anti-war message. The international artists brought together by museum curator, Gudrun Erler, have all produced more subtle and considered responses to the relationship women have with war.

Morbidity and rebellion

For German artist, Christine Schlegel, one of the most important links is women's relationship to the military and militancy.

"That the starting point for me, to consider, how difficult it is to come up with something positive. How long does it take, as I bring up a child, and someone grabs a weapon and shoots the child, how is it, between all these things to focus on the positive, when that can be destroyed in such a short period of time? The next question I asked myself was -- has that got anything to do with men and women at all?"

American artist, Elizabeth Chandler's work also has little to do with the tabloid image of war and avoids focusing on the presumed emancipation of women and their acceptance into the military nowadays. Her personal documentation of war, inspired by the work of the Red Cross, features war-torn clothing stained with blood. In a further series of pictures, the Californian-born artist highlights the morbid side of war, focusing on what she sees as the typical role of women: having the task of helping relatives to come to terms with the death of loved ones.

Not all the artists taking part in the exhibition see war this way, however. Biljana Djurdjevic's -- a young artist from Belgrade -- contribution consists of pictures showing groups of men in full war regalia, flanked by Rottweilers.

The Berlin artist, Eva Kohler's contribution looks at the role of women in resistance movements, featuring paintings of Russian Tsarinas, the female resistance movement in National Socialist Germany and in the terror organisation of the 1970s and 1980s, the "RAF". Kohler, who herself has a political history involved in the 1968 movement, says she wanted to try and understand the motivations of women who have rebelled. "I asked myself the same question over and over again, as I discovered these women. A lot of them, I didn't know anything about, she told DW-RADIO. "I didn't want to distance myself from these women utterly. Rather, I asked myself: 'how would I have handled the same situation?' Is it justified to use violence, as these women did, would I have had the courage and would I have been afraid?"

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