The Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim (Grafschaft Bentheim Art Association)

Above: Freya’s Hair, Freya, Freya’s Tears (2023) / Marleen Rothaus, © Hanna Neander, 2023

The Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim (Grafschaft Bentheim Art Association) is located in the German town of Neuenhaus, which has a population of around 10,000. Grafschaft Bentheim is a county in the state of Lower Saxony, a fairly rural area with the larger towns of Nordhorn and Bad Bentheim. 

The region generally has a broad voluntary commitment in the cultural sector, which I support full-time as the county's cultural manager and museologist. The Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim was founded in 1993 as a local citizens' initiative. Since 1995, it has been housed in a listed building dating back to 1750, which was formerly used as a hotel. The Kunstverein Grafschaft Bentheim shows contemporary art of international significance in two to three exhibitions per year. One exhibition per year is dedicated to regional art production. For about three decades, the work of the Kunstverein was characterized by the honorary director Gudrun Thiessen-Schneider. The current artistic director Muriel Meyer (currently represented by Carolin Itterbeck), together with a team of mainly volunteers, implements a framework and educational program for a wide variety of target groups. According to the association itself, the artistic content is intended to promote diversity, critical thinking, democratic understanding and openness to new ideas.

In this article, I would like to introduce you to an exhibition of the Kunstverein that I personally found very intriguing: Marleen Rothaus, "That's How The Light Gets In", curated by Romina Dümler (14 to December 17, 2023).

The exhibition asks which narratives shape our ideas of gender and femininity. When and by whom were they established? Marleen Rothaus, born in 1991, seeks answers to these questions by referring in her paintings to painful historical ruptures that arose in the course of what she sees as the violent enforcement of patriarchy. Due to their incompatibility with claims to power, thousands of years of knowledge were allegedly overwritten or - like their bearers - erased. Based on theories underlying revolutionary movements, the artist researches narratives from a wide range of eras and cultures.

In the following picture you can see the Mother of Change in the center, a multi-layered figure inspired by various depictions of mother goddesses:

Beginning, Mother of Change, Ending (2023)
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marleen Rothaus, © Hanna Neander, 2023

Rothaus' artistic work is inextricably linked to her activist practice. Her paintings, which are often combined with short lettering, deliberately take on open forms - they can be exhibits, but are also conceived and used as banners and signs for political demonstrations. For this reason, video documentaries can also be seen alongside the artworks in the exhibition.

Video documentaries and signs (2020-2023)
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marleen Rothaus, © Hanna Neander, 2023

My personal favorite painting is that of the Norse goddess Freya (pictured at top), which Rothaus created especially for the exhibition in Neuenhaus. In her depiction, Freya rides across the sky on a chariot pulled by two cats, bringing spring - a symbol of renewal and the prospect of light after times of darkness and cold. This depiction is framed by two images of medicinal plants. The artist thus refers to the female figure of the witch, who is associated with self-determined femininity and was therefore often seen as a danger in history.

The exhibition encourages us to question our own ideas of femininity, which are sometimes deeply rooted in our minds. And despite the serious subject matter, Marleen Rothaus' colorful and mystical pictures radiate warmth and confidence: Because where ruptures become visible, light can shine through.

Me, the witch (2019), Coven (2020)
PHOTOGRAPH BY Marleen Rothaus, © Hanna Neander, 2023

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Regina Göschl

I am a historian and museum specialist. My dissertation deals with the depiction of GDR everyday life in museums in Germany. During the dissertation period, I worked at Münster University for five years. I then worked as curator of an exhibition on the Weimar Republic at the LWL-Institut für westfälische Regionalgeschichte in Münster for one and a half years and then for almost four years at the German Mining Museum Bochum, where I managed a major special exhibition on German-German environmental history. I now work as a cultural manager and museologist for the county Grafschaft Bentheim.