Photo by Julia Gaisbacher

The Austrian Association of Women Artists (VBKÖ) was founded in 1910 and began renting its historical premises shortly thereafter in Vienna’s first district, where it can be found today. The association belonged to the early movements of women artists, being a pioneer historically: it lobbied for women artists, for the improvement of their artistic, economic and educational conditions, and to increase their representation, organizing international collaborations.

Organizations, such as the VBKÖ, demonstrate the complexities and contradictions of contemporary feminist history-writing: This is where the emancipatory history of an artistic women’s movement, dating back to the days of imperialism and which still has yet be inscribed into official art history, meets the history of the collaboration with the Nazi regime. Through knowledge gaps – resulting from historical and internal fractures in the association’s own history – history-writing and research, in regard to National Socialism and the association’s class-specific and colonial entanglements, are more easily forgotten. One of the biggest challenges is, therefore, to continue building structures and initiating processes that enable the continual analysis of historical narratives anew, keeping processes of reflection active and making that knowledge public and discursive.

Today, the VBKÖ exists as a space for fostering contemporary feminist artistic agendas, offering a space for experiments and promoting political and activist work, in order to establish a new and vital connection between historical debates and contemporary queer, feminist art production.

One of the VBKÖ’s most recent endeavors has been the opening of the space for German lessons for refugees. Through the cooperation between activists and artists, a more interactive approach to learning and exchanging knowledges takes place in a more hands-on way. These free lessons are available to refugees who are unable to pay for German courses, who have been rejected from other institutions, or who need to supplement what they have learned from other German courses. Through the exchange with artists and the interaction with the space and artworks, the people are able to learn more practical and applied perspectives that they can bring to their everyday lives in Austria.