Eisman receives NEH fellowship for research on East German contemporary artist

AMES, Iowa — Art historian April Eisman, an Iowa State University associate professor of art and visual culture, has received a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship to spend the 2018-2019 academic year doing research in Germany.

Eisman will use the yearlong fellowship to complete her second book, “Angela Hampel: A Contemporary Artist in East Germany,” and begin work on a third book project. 

April Eisman

April Eisman

Part of the last generation of artists to come of age in the former East Germany and one of its most successful and outspoken artists, Hampel made frequent speeches demanding greater inclusion of women in the art world, while her Neo-expressionist paintings of strong women from mythology and the Bible appeared in major exhibitions on both sides of the Berlin Wall.

“Hampel was hugely important not only as an artist but as a feminist voice in East Germany, where, prior to reunification, women represented 25 to 30 percent of artists. While far from equal, this was a much higher percentage than in West Germany, where women’s inclusion was usually less than 10 percent,” Eisman said.

“Hampel was at the forefront of the push for gender equality and had seen real progress. Rights for women in the west, in comparison, were far behind; once the wall came down, it was hard for her to come to terms with that, and her work changed.”

Eisman will use Hampel’s art and experiences to examine gender politics in the east and women’s conditions in the west, including a chapter on her post-reunification work. She will also look at Hampel’s installations and performances in Dresden in the 1980s to challenge current understandings of East German art. In addition to completing the Hampel book, Eisman will gather materials and do interviews for a third book exploring the work of five important East German painters who, because they are women, have been largely overlooked since reunification.

Eisman has taught art history at Iowa State since 2007. Her research explores contemporary art and theory with an emphasis on East German art and its reception. In addition to the NEH fellowship, Eisman also has received fellowships from the American Association of University Women, the Berlin Program for Advanced German and European Studies, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education. Co-founder of the Transatlantic Institute for East German Art, she holds a bachelor’s degree in English and art history from Lawrence University; a master’s degree in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in London; and a Ph.D. in art from the University of Pittsburgh.

Her first book, “Bernhard Heisig and the Fight for Modern Art in East Germany,” will be published by Camden House in September.