10th Berlin Biennale


When discussing art and culture, capitalism and neoliberalism are often overlooked. This in turn contributes to a hierarchy in Pan-African representation, maintains C&’s deputy editor Will Furtado.

In 2018 US narratives still dominate across the board, especially when it comes to art that addresses race and racism. In Europe, Black and POC artists who deal with race and racism in Europe are often neglected in favor of African-American artists and their experiences. And there are also instances when African Americans organize events in Africa with an imperialist attitude, whereby there is little attention or care toward the local realities, or a “woke” message is used for capitalist endeavors.

There is no doubt that Arthur Jafa deserved his solo shows at the Serpentine and at JSC. Yet we have to question why Black artists in Europe who deal with race are not being supported on a large scale too. Historically the German Left was very supportive of African American intellectuals, from Angela Davis to Audre Lorde. When Davis was imprisoned in October 1970, The New York Times reported that self-organized initiatives to free her quickly spread across Europe, especially in East Germany, thanks to student movements.

Equally in West Germany more than 10,000 people including former West Berlin mayor Heinrich Albertz and Bundestag member K. H. Walkoff signed an appeal to release Davis. Yet they were silent on the issues affecting Black Germans.

In London, while the Tate Modern exhibition Soul of a Nation was received
with great praise and had a high number of visitors (especially Black) last year, there is yet to be a show of such magnitude dedicated to POC British artists. Representation does matter, and curatorial and institutional support should not be underestimated when it comes to aiding artists to take their art further or simply survive to tell their stories through art.

But things are never one-sided. UK institutions also tend to focus disproportionately on experiences of the English-speaking world, with rare exceptions. Hence the UK can at times function as the “US” of Europe, whereby British artists disproportionally represent the European POC Diaspora. The Diaspora Pavilion in the 57th Venice Biennale, for instance, featured mostly British and UK- based artists. This leaves Black European artists on the European continent, who generally grew up isolated, lagging behind and using that as an excuse to not organize. But things are changing and there is a new awakening to these very issues. There are now initiatives across the continent that are creating networks with Black and POC artists in mind. One of these initiatives is 1.1 in Basel, Switzerland, a platform for young artistic practice in visual arts and music, cofounded in 2015 by artists Deborah Joyce Holman and Tuula Rasmussen. “We want to broaden a narrative that is usually told and represented disproportionally and from a not very diverse position,” says Holman. “Europe is a diverse continent, and it should be reflected as such through outputs but also within infrastructures of institutions.” By commodifying art, capitalism has simultaneously contributed toward democratizing it, to a certain extent. This paradox can create new worlds of opportunity and it’s up to the gatekeepers now to ensure that this also extends to all African perspectives.

Will Furtado is C&’s deputy editor.

This interview was initially published in the new C& Print Issue #9. You can read the full magazin here.