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Fleeting memories

23 Sep 2022

95 of the statues and monuments in Munich portray men. LMU student Amadea is trying to change that by setting up virtual statues of famous women. What began as a university course is now culminating in a month-long city-wide exhibition.

© Carla Gannis

Whether you are going to school, the office, the bakery or wherever, almost every route takes you past the numerous monuments that line the streets of Munich. In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, we scarcely even notice the statues of mounted horsemen and war heroes, of poets and thinkers. Take a closer look, however, and you will notice that most of the statues have one thing in common: They depict men. LMU student Amadea Pely and four fellow students resolved to change this situation – and therefore founded denkFEmale.

That said, Amadea prefers working not with a hammer and chisel, but with her smartphone. denkFEmale erects virtual statues of women at places associated with their achievements: But the statues become visible only when the viewer scans a QR code on the ground. The project has its roots in the “Immersive Arts” course, a cooperative venture of LMU and HFF Munich that concerns itself with digital works of art. “We wanted to create an augmented reality (AR) experience in the city and to solve a problem at the same time. 95 percent of the statues here are male – we immediately saw that there was something wrong with that,” media informatics student Amadea says. “But using AR lets us update the cityscape and set a monument to female figures from the past.”

Prominent backing

The first denkFEmale project focused on women’s rights activist and lawyer Anita Augspurg (1857-1943), whose virtual statue was on display outside the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum (Bavarian National Museum) in summer 2021. Further statues very quickly drew considerable attention to the project: Even Deputy Mayor of Munich Katrin Habenschaden showed a picture of herself with the virtual lawyer on Instagram.

The denkFEmale team was pleased to have extended its reach. And for Amadea and fellow student Tabitha Nagy from the Academy of Fine Arts Munich (AdbK), it soon became clear that the project would not stop when the seminar ended. “We want to raise awareness of the fact that our cityscape is not diverse, that it is shaped by patriarchal eras. We have all inherited this cityscape,” Amadea notes. “But there is no reason why we should just accept it as it is.”

Overseas cooperation

With Katrin Habenschaden in the role of patron, what started out as an academic project has now reached its next milestone: As part of “past statements” – a City of Munich campaign focused on historic monuments – denkFEmale is now taking part in the month-long exhibition #MakeUsVisible x denkFEmale, which will be launched on 30 September with a vernissage at Hildebrandhaus. For the whole month of October, visitors will be able to see 31 virtual statues of women and trans people all over Munich.

Such a large-scale project has been made possible only thanks to denkFEmale’s cooperation with #MakeUsVisible in the USA. In New York City, Anne Wichmann – a native of Munich and former student of LMU – organized a similar project with her partner. Their aim was to give under-represented groups a platform and leverage augmented reality to bring it into the public space. Years of experience as a curator and artist made Anne the ideal partner for Amadea and Tabitha, and their collaboration worked well on a personal level too. “We are all open and flexible, so we were able to merge our concepts well,” says an obviously happy Anne. Her links around the globe gave rise to an international ensemble of artists from ten different countries, all of whom have worked on creating the virtual works of art for the exhibition.

The exhibition will run until 31 October. After that, the virtual monuments will initially disappear from Munich again and will be accessible only online. While Anne Wichmann sees this as a pity, Amadea is convinced that denkFEmale itself will remain in existence: “Other cities have also asked us to place AR statues, and we also give a more diverse design to public spaces in different cities.”

The exhibition #MakeUsVisible x denkFEmale runs from 1-31 October and is free of charge. On 9 October, a guided tour of the exhibits will be conducted as part of the “past statements” campaign.

For more on #MakeUsVisible, see #MakeUsVisible

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