Since relocating to Berlin in 2015, I have encountered time and again the phrase “Refugees Welcome.” On the S-Bahn, printed on t-shirts, plastered onto innumerable bathroom stall doors, “Refugees Welcome” has become the rallying cry of Berliners opposed to the Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, which last year won nearly 14% of votes in the federal election. The first right-wing political party to enter parliament since 1949, the AfD opposes Chancellor Angela Merkel’s long-standing open-door policy towards refugees, undermining Germany’s reputation as a safe place for displaced people.
This year’s Berlin Biennale offers incisive commentary on the disturbing resurgence of nationalism in Germany. Entitled “We Don’t Need Another Hero” — a reference to Tina Turner’s 1985 anthem — it makes a strong case for art as a force for social change without pretending to offer any easy solutions.
“We draw from a moment directly preceding major geopolitical shifts that brought about regime changes and new historical figures,” lead curator Gabi Ngcobo writes in the exhibition’s outline, “refusing to be seduced by unyielding knowledge systems and historical narratives that contribute to the creation of toxic subjectivities.”
Since its founding in 1996, the Berlin Biennale has sought to foster radical political discourse. The first Berlin Biennale was fueled by a desire for “civic transformation,” as curators Nancy Spector, Hans Ulrich-Obrist, and Klaus Biesenbach put it in the exhibition catalogue. At the time, Berlin was still coping with the collapse of the German Democratic Republic and the subsequent influx of refugees from East Germany, and the messy politics of reunification served as a catalyst for artistic experiments. The idea of establishing a biennale in Berlin was not only about marketing the city as a newly reunited Western capital, but also about developing new artistic resources in terms of organizing, activism, event planning and political protest.
Full article by Dorian Batycka here.