Feminist male artist shakes up gender norms | Arts | DW | 08.01.2013
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Feminist male artist shakes up gender norms

Artist Wolfgang Klaus Maria Friedrich campaigns for women's rights - above all in art. He's the first male artist to have been given the opportunity to exhibit at the Women's Museum in Bonn.

Dark, bitter-sweet chocolate spews from fountains placed on two round tables. The fountains are surrounded by small cookies. At first glance, you might not notice that they are in the shape of penises. The work is called "On everyone's lips."

It might sound like a light-hearted double entendre, but it's the work is actually about putting an end to child abuse. Zartbitter (Bitter-sweet) is the name of a Cologne-based organization working to combat child abuse.

This is the opening to Black Chocolate, an exhibition at the Women's Museum in nearby Bonn. The title is taken from the name of a group of female artists founded in the Berlin district of Kreuzberg, who take a stand against male dominance in the art world. The exhibition itself explores the women's movement in art and presents artworks by female artists campaigning for sexual equality in the arts.

A chocolate fountain and penis-shaped cookies at the Black Chocolate exhibition at Bonn's Women's Museum. Copyright: Vytené Stasaityté

Visitors should take care not to choke on the penis-shaped cookies

The female artists featured in the exhibition have a least one man on their side: Cologne artist Wolfgang Klaus Maria Friedrich, who is known by the acronym WKMF. His works, including the chocolate fountains, greet visitors in the entrance hall to the Women's Museum. Four screen prints made with chocolate and detailing the fates of different women are hung on the wall behind the fountains.

Ostracized in a man's world

WKMF is viewed with suspicion by other men, particularly fellow male artists. "I've been ostracized by my male colleagues, because in their eyes I've adopted a female position," he explained in an interview with DW.

"But I'm really a man and I do it out of conviction. When I see inequality, then I have to address to address it. That's my main job as an artist. One must always fight back. I do it with great pleasure, every single day," said Friedrich.

WKMF is convinced that if more women in the world had a say in how things are run, problems such as the financial crisis would not have occurred.

"We all know the old saying, 'It's a man's world.' It's still a lot easier for men to have a career. If things don't change, and soon, then women won't just go home frustrated, but the entire economy will have lost out."

Confronting gender issues

The 55-year-old artist doesn't like labels: He's not a homosexual, was once married and has two grown children. He is a "tower of a man, a two-meter-tall hunk," is how one friend, a gallery owner, described him.

WKMF and the director of the Women's Museum in Bonn, Marianne Pitzen. Photograph: Vytenė Stašaitytė

WKMF and the director of the Women's Museum in Bonn, Marianne Pitzen

But he's also a staunch feminist. "I love women, and I'm a determined feminist, but I'm a man," he repeated. " I would like all rights to be shared 50/50." He does admit that he has more male friends than female: "When it comes to friendship, I don't place much value on gender. There are women who can drink like men. But there are also picky men."

Now this "dream man" is represented in the middle of an exhibition focused on women's rights. It's a provocative move considering that WKMF wants to draw attention to inequality between the sexes.

It's not just the chocolate fountains adorned with penis-shaped cookies which have a symbolic meaning, but also the chocolate screen prints on the wall. They are all portraits of women from different milieus. A destitute woman is pictured with her child on the street, alongside a mother and child portrait from a saccharine 1950s advert.

The feminist artist also asks: "What gender is God?" It's a question which has troubled many and which, perhaps, can best be answered with art.

The Lithuanian news portal delfi.lt is a participant in the "Nahaufnahme (Close-Up)" journalistic exchange program organized by the Goethe-Institut. During the project, journalists from Germany and other European countries exchange their workplaces for a period of two to four weeks. In December 2012, DELFI journalist Vytene Stasaityte was a guest in the editorial team at Deutsche Welle. In March, DW sent reporter Monika Griebeler to Vilnius. You can find further information about the project here.

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