Documenta and Anti-Semitism – Shadows and a Little Light

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of: Lisa Berrins


Ceramic Bananas from the Britto Arts Trust group address the beautification and standardization of food. © Lisa Berrins

Documenta, Week 2: The scandal is on fire, but it doesn’t seem like a lot of people are noticing it on the scene.

Kassel – Between tomatoes and lettuce, the world still seems to be in order. Mahbubur Rahman, a surfer type with long, slightly gray hair and sunglasses, stands behind a bamboo pole and smiles. “We share food.” He tells the woman with the backpack. She came sweating through the vegetable garden and in this moment became a part of Pak Ghor. A kind of Bengali outdoor restaurant where people gather through food. “We share food, and it’s love,” says Rahman, founder of the Britto Arts Trust, a Bangladeshi group, handing a vegetable soup over the counter. At lunchtime, about 15 people voluntarily became the group’s guests. Sit on the floor, exchange ideas about the art and its origins seen in the documenta, and eat a stew Art holiday in Kassel could be so beautiful without these dark shadows cast over the world art exhibition.

rptMahbubur Rahman (center) is the work of the Britto Arts Trust collective.  Photo: Berrins
Mahbubur Rahman (center) of the Britto Arts Trust group. © Berrins

Kassel’s Documenta 15: Allegations of Anti-Semitism have gone unnoticed by the Britto Arts Trust.

The Britto Arts Trust is one of 14 arts organizations invited to Documenta. Various installations in front of and inside the Documenta Pavilion treat food as a means of living, cultural property, and political tool. Members of the Britto Arts Trust said they were both surprised and delighted when the documentary request came. The fact that they would one day participate in this exhibition was a previously unimaginable visitor. The Britto Arts Trust hasn’t heard much about the possible BDS proximity in a debate that has been going on for months in Germany over anti-Semitic allegations against a group of Palestinian artists. But now it feels weird, says Rahman. The big banner of Indonesian group Taring Padi, “People’s Justice”, is just a few meters from the Documenta Hall and not far from the vegetable garden with an outdoor kitchen. Shortly after the release of Documenta, the poster was taken down due to its anti-Semitic imagery. The scandal “has dampened a lot of the positive vibes,” says Rahman. “It broke the flow.”

A mural depicting a movie scene involving food.  Photo: Berrins
A mural depicting a movie scene involving food. © Berrins

On Wednesday evening, after a long walk, participants had their first, if not all, conversations about anti-Semitism and its possible consequences in the documenta. For reference, Indonesian curator Ruangrupa’s team canceled a series of scheduled talks ahead of the opening of the exhibition without notice. She may have arranged things. Now the panel discussion started at the Anne Frank Education Center with Documenta right next door to the Fridericianum is actually too late. The front is strengthened and responsibility is shifted back and forth at the political level. Also on the podium is Meron Mendel, the head of the educational institution. For a long time he wanted to believe that the charges would disappear into the air, and he learned a better way with the depiction of a pig-faced soldier, the Star of David and the “Mossad” helmet inscription. Taring Padi’s famous large poster. Today, Mendel speaks of an anti-Semitic “thinking” that can be learned.

Documenta 15 in Kassel: Concerns turned into scandals.

If there is a flow, others will be delighted. The ominous uneasiness ahead of the exhibition has now been turned into a real scandal with tremendous explosive power in discourse on post-colonialism and anti-Semitism, freedom and censorship of art, and art exhibitions. itself.

Doron Kiesel, head of science at the German Central Jewish Commission, sees the situation differently. He is still standing on the podium this evening. He criticized the call for a pre-documenta meeting, as well as the need to resume the “guardian function” the Central Committee had long hoped to overcome. He sees “a serious wave of confidence.”

Political scientist Nikita Dhawan, who was born in India and teaches at the Technical University of Dresden, will represent the Southern Hemisphere this evening and defend herself against accusations that post-colonial debates often end in anti-Israelism and anti-Israelism. anti-semitism. Dhawan talks about art censorship in English for “intersecting hate” and “political laziness”.

The scandal is only visible to insiders, with the exception of the large emptiness in the place where the Taring Padi poster was while browsing the documenta. Someone scribbled the phrase “All Art Matters” with chalk on the wall. At Fridericianum, an additional staff is standing near a shelf and guarding it as someone recently tried to smash a book about the Negro movement and Palestine. The Palestinian mass-funding issue still displays images of the controversial Guernica-Gaza series, and friendly security guards are guarding WH22, where there was a break-in at the end of May.

But what if not? According to the Documenta guide, few people ask about the anti-Semitic incidents during his travels, and if so, he is without exception German. You can hear pleasant conversations in Spanish and French on the tram. Next stop: Hallenbad Ost.

Documenta 15 in Kassel: Amazing Visitors

A colorful cardboard figure stands in front of the building, criticizing capitalism and other things with a provocative image. In some works, he is symbolically depicted as a pig wearing a suit and with dollar bills falling from his pocket. The inside of the old swimming pool smells of incense. A surprising number of visitors come to see the works of Taring Fadi, known as ‘hidden objects’. Perhaps to discover more important motives.

You have to search for a really long time in this rich expression. The work may have been inspired by detailed frescoes from the Italian Renaissance or Mexican murals. In any case, their messages cannot be deciphered. They are political and probably have a hidden message. The group was founded in 1998 as a group of activists during the Reformasi era and has been dedicated to protesting perceived injustice ever since.

In front of the indoor pool, the three members of Taringfadi are sitting in a rickshaw-like place and playing music. As one member explains, it is a song about hate. About hate is bad. They tend to make general statements about their art. They have to do with a lot of things going wrong in the world. Then they issued a statement last week apologizing that their work, People’s Justice, had offended many people. In the historical context of Germany, their visual language has acquired “a certain meaning”. “We are learning,” says Taring Padi member Yusuf, rolling a cigarette. This group records conversations with GoPro cameras without asking beforehand.

The oznorDLM members of the Taring Padi group are making music.  Photo: Berrins
A member of the Taring Padi group making music. © Berrins

According to Adam Szymczyk, Artistic Director of Documenta in the past, the problem is the translation problem. Not only the language, but also the culture itself. On the podium, he represents Documenta, who is not on the podium by General Director Sabine Schormann.

Documenta 15 in Kassel: An important question is floating in the air.

Doron Kiesel argues that artists have no excuse for not addressing the context of the country in which they are exhibiting. Meron Mendel also emphasizes the need for contextualization. Another important question is floating in the air. What’s next? How to deal with possible additional anti-Semitic images? How are we going to discuss this? How can we revamp the documenta to prevent such a scandal from happening again? Who, how much, and how much can you influence your curatorial work? The Federal Cultural Foundation’s artistic director, Hortensia Völkers, advocates for the principle of autonomy of the institutions it supports, despite “great damage to the cultural landscape” caused by the anti-Semitic scandal.

Documenta 15’s autonomy and sovereignty are: Bengal vegetable gardens grow in the shadow of aggressive, cross-border protest art. And who said that everything can’t be changed again tomorrow? Who says new messages cannot appear in this ever-changing and never-ending document 15? Meron Mendel believes that a “safe space” for everyone is simply impossible. That is, this way. And sometimes those shadows help. It’s not just about growing vegetables. Otherwise, it can help you see what’s obscured by the sun. (Lisa Berrins)

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