|Let’s Talk About Our Roots|
Let’s Talk About Our Roots
Germans live all over the world. They adapt quickly to their new homes, speak the languages of their host countries and integrate into their adopted societies. It appears that Germans strive to blend in. But only to a point; at some time most immigrants find something in themselves that can only be described as ‘German’ and is based on their roots, their upbringing, their “Heimat”. German immigrants to the United States until the 1960s recognized this common identity and found a little of the old world in clubs and societies. “Arbeiterbildungsverein” or “Schwabenclub”, “Pacific Sänger Bund” or “Oakland Naturfreunde”, were all clubs in which German emigrants stayed connected with Germany.
Werner Glinka is originally from Gelsenkirchen. He came to California in 1981, living and working in the Bay Area and establishing himself as an artist. “A couple of years ago, one of the things I saw in Silicon Valley was these exhibitions, surveys of ethnic art, of Hispanic art, Philipino art and such. And I thought, well, what about us Germans?” At that point Glinka already knew Inge Infante, an artist who had left Germany for the US in the early 60s. They met Ines Tancre, the wife of a German diplomat, at an exhibition. An artist herself, Tancre was eager to make connections to the local art scene. The three realized that what connected them was their heritage, the German in them.
Together, they started the organization “German American Artists” to “advance the process of creative communication within the circle of German American artists as well as our audience”. For Werner Glinka the original motive was to leverage marketing opportunities for each artist and it evolved into the chance to present not just one but multiple pictures of German art in the United States. “It grew from just the idea of a marketing group to a group where we can talk not just about art but go back to our German roots. One of the unintended consequences was that we started to speak German of course,” Glinka says.
Initially, Inge Infante didn’t like the idea of forming a club or “Verein”. It seemed entirely too German for her, “where everyone is in a Verein”, she laughs. But the more the three talked, the more she became convinced that together they would be able to express their creative visions. And of course, there was the personal interaction with fellow Germans for her as well. Infante had grown up in post war Germany and been living in the US since the 60s. She hadn’t been able to communicate her experiences to Americans. In this group she felt understood by others who shared a similar cultural and historical background.
And of course there is the art. Although the pictures, collages, assemblages, photographs and sculptures vary, the German heritage of their creators – all living abroad– connects them. This was obvious at the group’s most recent exhibition entitled, “Doppelgänger.” Each artist navigated the reality of daily life in the US as well as the artist’s own German roots, upbringing and cultural identity.
The group has grown from three to nine members. In addition to Werner Glinka, Inge Infante and Ines Tancre, it includes Bertolt Schmidt, Natasha Jülicher, Silke Henkel-Wallace, Heike Seefeldt, Julian Voss-Andreae and Susanne Kaspar. All of them except Voss-Andreae are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, are German and are professional artists who have presented their art in galleries around the world.
Ines Tancre’s decision to found the group “German American Artists” was in some ways a result of her own experiences. “It’s the first group I worked with in the artist world. For me it has something to do with America. Coming over here, I never felt that strong to defend or to bring out my own personality and nationality. Because, and that might not be politically correct, you are overwhelmed with Americanism.” Further, she sees the connection with like-minded art colleagues as a “wonderful, true and welcoming change” to the formal life as a diplomat’s wife. With her inviting and welcoming way, Tancre has opened the world of German artists living in the Bay Area to a wide audience. The German American Artists re-established the word “community” for Germans in Northern California, showing that German culture can be much more than social events and gatherings. Being German can be not only a creative process that invites others to participate, but also an opportunity to identify with one’s own roots and culture.
You can find the group online at www.germanamericanartists.com