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From fashion icon to priestess of depravity: the dancer Anita Berber in 1920s Berlin

Reimers, Anne (2013) From fashion icon to priestess of depravity: the dancer Anita Berber in 1920s Berlin. In: Evil, Women and the Feminine, 18-20 May 2013, Prague.

Type of Research: Conference, Symposium or Workshop Item
Creators: Reimers, Anne

Between 1917 and 1923, photographs of the dancer, actor and ‘It-girl’ Anita Berber appeared regularly in the popular Berlin fashion magazine Die Dame, which was aimed at a well-off bourgeois audience. In 1925 the German painter Otto Dix, known for his harsh, realist style and interest in the grotesque, painted her famous portrait. It showed a dangerous and evil rather than attractive looking woman, her face a deathly mask, with eyes bloodshot from excessive use of cocaine, morphine and absinthe. By 1925, Anita Berber had fallen from celebrated, fashionable dancer to ‘priestess of depravity’, infamous for her nude dances, drug use, and scandalous outfits for such roles as Salome and other ‘evil’ women. Following her death in 1928, at age 29, the Film-Kurier wrote, that she represented a generation – after previously describing her as ‘incarnation of the perverse’. This paper evaluates to what extent the types and masks of dangerous and evil femininity which she enacted on stage and in life are reflected in Dix’ painting. The artist exaggerates her decaying body and the threatening characteristics of her appearance: Was this a way of ‘taming’ her or is abjection the condition for her empowerment in the image? Psycho-analytical theories on masks of femininity by Joan Riviere and Julia Kristeva’s conception of the ‘abject’ will be used to understand what notions of femininity are expressed in this image and to what effect. This is followed by a discussion of cruelty and ugliness in modern art with reference to Theodor Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory (1970). The aim is to evaluate the visual impact and dialectics of an image in which Dix applies old-masterly painting techniques to the portrait of a contemporary celebrity. The paper will conclude that Berber and Dix formed a tactical alliance, in which he used her notoriety for his own ends, while simultaneously cementing her status as an icon of the Weimar epoch.

Your affiliations with UAL: Colleges > London College of Fashion
Date: May 2013
Related Websites: https://medievalsociety.blogspot.com/2012/09/cfp-5th-global-conference-evil-women.html
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Event Location: Prague
Date Deposited: 17 Apr 2024 14:35
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2024 14:35
Item ID: 21577
URI: https://ualresearchonline.arts.ac.uk/id/eprint/21577

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