Ein Plakat- und Videoprojekt
mit Beiträgen von Susi Jirkuff,
Jakob Lena Knebl, Isa Rosenberger und
Susanne Schuda

2018 October to December

Postkarte zum Frauenwahlrecht aus dem Jahr 1913 von Marianne Saxl, aus: Adelheid Popp, Der Weg zur Höhe, die sozialdemokratische Frauenbewegung Österreichs, ihr Aufbau, ihre Entwicklung und ihr Aufstieg, Frauenzentralkomitee der Sozialdemokratischen Arbeiterpartei Deutschösterreichs, Wien 1929, S. 131. © Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Bildarchiv


“We do not blindly seek suffrage, but are fully aware that the right to vote means power.” (Marianne Hainisch, commemorative publication of the Austrian Women’s Suffrage Committee, Vienna 1913)

2018 is a very important anniversary year for many decisive events in the history of Austria and Europe. We are commemorating and remembering the founding of the First Austrian Republic in 1918, the Revolution of 1848, the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany in 1938, and the student protests in 1968. It is also an occasion to renegotiate our culture of remembrance and remembering, which is why it is especially important to give due regard to yet another anniversary that has played a role in our democracy: The introduction of the women’s right to vote in Austria in 1918. Although there is no gap in our historical consciousness about this event—its history has been intensely and comprehensively researched—the first women’s movement and its relevance for our society nevertheless do not seem very deeply rooted in our collective memory, and it does not seem to play a role in the broader public discourse today. At the initiative of the Women's Department of the Office of the Provincial Government of Lower Austria, the Department of Art and Culture/Public Art Lower Austria decided to use this occasion to honor this milestone of our history by developing a temporary, multipartite public art project with the goal of reminding the general public of the 100-year anniversary of women’s suffrage and the history of the suffragettes through art. An expert jury therefore invited several women artists to participate in the project: Jakob Lena Knebl, Isa Rosenberger, and Susanne Schuda designed posters, while Susi Jirkuff created animated films.

A Long Struggle
November 12, 1918, saw the introduction of the “general, equal, direct, and secret right to vote for all citizens, regardless of their gender.” For the first time in history, Austrian women were allowed to vote and to run for office in the national election on February 16, 1919, on equal footing with men. Eight women were elected into the National Assembly. Although the introduction of the right to vote for women ultimately had its roots in the political, economic, and social changes in the aftermath of World War I, the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the founding of the Austrian Republic, it was also the product of many working and middle-class liberal movements that fought for, and finally achieved, the political participation of women all over the world.
In Austria, the struggle was born out of the March Revolution of 1848, when women demonstrated for equal pay for the first time—some of them even losing their lives in the process. When that revolution was crushed, a neo-absolutist system was installed, delivering a horrible blow not only for democracy, but also for women and their struggle for equal rights, and they were excluded from public life to an even greater extent than before. At the turn of the 20th century, women were still regarded as second-class citizens, because they were completely economically and politically dependent on their families and/or husbands and could not stand up for themselves on the political stage.

The first female members of Parliament in 1919. First row, left to right: Adelheid Popp, Anna Boschek, second row: Gabriele Proft, Therese Schlesinger, third row: Maria Tusch, Amelie Seidel. © ÖNB/Wien Bildarchiv 118.074C

The Austrian suffragettes knew that political participation was a privilege of the wealthy and educated, which is why they concentrated on improving education for women. Females were not only excluded from political activities and membership in clubs and associations, they were also not allowed to pursue higher education or study at colleges and universities. The first secondary school for girls was established in 1892 thanks to Marianne Hainisch, a key figure of the middle-class, liberal women’s movement who also founded the federation of Austrian women’s associations in 1901.
As the situation began to change slowly after the turn of the century, women’s suffrage finally grew in importance in the eyes of the public, not least due to the countless initiatives, petitions, resolutions, and demonstrations of the independent women’s suffrage committees in Vienna, Prague, and Brno that were founded in 1905. Women’s suffrage in Austria, which was introduced at the same time as the declaration of the First Austrian Republic in 1918, not only ended the exclusion of women from political decisions; it also reflected the socio-political reality that could no longer be ignored after World War I, which is that women have always been part of public and social life and have always made a significant contribution to the country’s economy.

There Is Still Much To Be Done
Today, we tend to take women’s rights for granted. Yet, the introduction of the women’s right to vote was only the first in many social and political steps toward ensuring gender equality. Even now, 100 years later, there still is structural discrimination against women, male power structures continue to exist, and women and men still do not enjoy the same opportunities. We need many more organized efforts to meet all of the original suffragettes’ demands. We only have to think of the significant income gap, the fact that childcare and the care of relatives is for the most part still done by women, or that women are still facing blatant sexism today. Significantly less women than men also hold a political office still today, and it is a simple fact that the Austrian parliamentary system continues to be dominated by men in 2018. The ratio of women in parliament is only roughly 34 percent, while merely 7.6 percent of Austria’s towns and cities are run by a female mayor, and Lower Austria is only the third Austrian state to have a woman governor.

Against Historical Amnesia
The four artists Susi Jirkuff, Jakob Lena Knebl, Isa Rosenberger, and Susanne Schuda all chose different approaches to this theme, yet all combine the historical development of women’s political participation with contemporary aspects. The public and digital realm serves as a projection surface and multiplier for their posters and films. The goal of the project is to achieve the greatest possible visibility for this important issue and to initiate an ongoing engagement with it. The artistic contributions encourage us to look closer, to ask critical questions, and to become actively involved at the intersections between private and political, between the personal sphere and the existing social reality. In its power to interact with the audience, art has the potential to establish a public platform through which complex historical parallels can be explored and applied to our present time.
Another major goal of this project is to reach young people and to raise their awareness of the pioneering achievements of women, thereby rooting these more firmly in our collective memory and counteracting wide-spread historical amnesia. Especially with the raised awareness from the #MeToo debate, now more than ever we need to address problems openly and to sensitize younger generations about this issue. The free brochure accompanying the project will therefore be distributed not only at a variety of institutions, but also especially at schools. The artists also conceived workshops for older high-school students and for art teachers that allow them to delve deeper into this issue using specific approaches, inspiring a direct dialogue.
The artists’ posters are on display in Lower Austria between October and December, and the video project can be viewed online.

Local Access © c-tv

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