BLACK LAND, RED LAND – RESTITUTE is an interdisciplinary festival that will critically examine the operational mechanisms and knowledge systems of museums and institutions. Via discursive and artistic processes, participants and audiences will gain a new intimacy with artifacts and narratives from the “holdings” of the Egyptian Museums of Berlin, Germany and Turin, Italy. Across four days from 21 – 28 December 2023, methods developed by the festival team and artists will be shared and discussed with audiences at silent green, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Palais am Festungsgraben, and in public space.
The imperial research expeditions to Egypt in the nineteenth century took place as part of the European exploration and capture of the African continent. As well as documenting and surveying the land, they also appropriated cultural entities. These expeditions, which took place within the extended context of expeditions of colonial conquest ongoing since the sixteenth century, sought to transfer their own modes of knowledge and ways of life to non- European territories. In the course of these “adventures,” cultural and spiritual artifacts, components of religious sites, and even human remains were removed from their traditional lands and used to fill museums being constructed across Europe (in Germany, Italy, France), and other parts of the world to function as centers of exhibition and knowledge production – and as testaments to the documenting and surveying of “new” lands. The sciences – at that historical point working with taxonomical methods of definition and categorization – invented meanings for these artifacts then displayed them as “objects” under their ownership. The museums declared themselves humanity’s universal stewards of a “global cultural heritage.” They grouped the expropriated artifacts according to their own self-image, presenting them as “collections” that corresponded with their own ideas and notions. Today still, only a small fraction of “humanity” has access to these European museums – wide swathes of the “cultures of origin” have never been able to visit and see these cultural and spiritual artifacts.
The complexity of the present situation is evident in the more discursive of recent public debates on restitution and return of the artifacts to their lands of origin. Who decides on the return of artifacts? What are the criteria? Where, precisely, do the restitutions go? What reasons are given? Who is now – and was then – excluded from the conversation? And do the discussions not have the corollary effect of legitimizing (post)colonial systems of knowledge and power? Who writes the histories? And what is hereby overwritten, over and over again? What do the works that became “catastrophic art” (Fazil Moradi) speak of?
An artistic, discursive search for erased and unavailable knowledge incorporates museum archives, but also goes beyond them. These institutions are also spaces that bear witness to the absolute exploitability and utility of life. Is it possible to imagine a shared vision for the artifacts and entities – and traces and histories thereof – beyond the borders of nation states? And can such a vision be carried over into the futures, on this or the other side of death?
The artistic contributions to the festival are new productions and variously deal with ancient Egyptian entities, mythologies of non-Western antiquity, or the relationship between social space, belonging, and communities.
The discursive section of the festival will cover various patterns of argumentation and procedures at museum institutions, both from a critical/historical perspective and a practice- based one. The festival will close with a roundtable discussion that will seek to map out shared futures based on the theme of “commemoration.”
Further information: www.blackland.berlin
Programme at silent green
Thursday, December 21
Postcolonial Critique: Museum Collections, Cultural Heritage, and Nefertiti
The first day of the discussion program will be dedicated to postcolonial critique of the so-called “collections” of European museums. With reference to “catastrophic art” and a bust of Nefertiti as located in Berlin, the discussions will cover meanings of provenance(s), gaps in the media debates on potential restitutions, and the significance of so-called “world cultural heritage.”
15:00 Fazil Moradi on “Catastrophic Art”
15:20 Monica Hanna on Nefertiti
15:40 Nora Al-Badr on her work (“The Other Nefertiti” and others)
16:30 Discussion with Fazil Moradi, Nora Al-Badri, Sarah Imani, Leontine Meijer-van Mensch, moderated by Yunus Ersoy
Friday, 22 December
Postcolonial Realities: Contributions from Practice
Critical contributions drawing on artistic practices and administrative experiences will take center stage on the second day. Artists move and work within postcolonial realities – but how were these realities constituted? What useful experiences can be drawn from anti-discrimination work? What possible ways might exist of cooperating with museums and institutions?
15:00 Yara Mekawei on “Sistrum,” a composition for Nefertiti
15:20 Elena Sinanina on “Dedication to Sakhmet”
15:40 Saraya Gomis on governmental anti-discrimination work
16:30 Discussion with Yara Mekawei, Elena Sinanina, Johannes Auenmüller, Saraya Gomis, moderated by Oliver Baurhenn
Thursday 21 + Friday, 22 December
Doors: 14.30 / Start 15:00
The project BLACK LAND, RED LAND – RESTITUTE is funded by the Senate Department for Culture and Community.In cooperation with the Initiative BLACK LAND e.V., Studio Babelsberg, Kunstraum Kreuzberg and silent green Kulturquartier. Supported by the Collegium Hungaricum Berlin.
Initiative BLACK LAND e.V.
Founded in February 2023 as a way of pursuing the ideas explored and generated by the BLACK LAND art project from 2022, Initiative BLACK LAND e. V. is dedicated to the histories of antiquity — to the ways in which these histories are read and interpreted, and to the ways they are deployed in interdisciplinary art projects.
Questions of identity, participation, solidarity, and economic use lead inevitably into an encounter with postcolonial presences and their narratives.
The goals under which the initiative was formed will be pursued in a range of forms: via art events, festivals, discussions, and artistic research projects, through the commissioning of artworks and the publication of written works and documentation, and through fostering public debate and building an international network that will receive ongoing support in exploring these issues.
The association will work alongside international partners, sponsors, and institutions (museums, research institutions, foundations, and similar). Chairing the association are Elena Sinanina and Yara Mekawei.