An exhibition in Hamburg explores aspects of dehumanisation in contemporary Europe

Not Fully Human, Not Human at All at the German city’s Kunstverein reflects on underlying unities between the refugee crisis and the ongoing pandemic.

by Jones John Published on : Jan 02, 2021

In a world plagued by environmental and political crises, conversations that remind communities of what it means to be human become incredibly important and as the globe come close to having gone through an entire year of living with the pandemic, one such conversation was initiated within the premises of the Kunstverein in Hamburg. Co-curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez and Bettina Steinbrügge, Not Fully Human, Not Human at All is an event of communal self-reflection, inspecting the violence of geopolitical hegemonies and the sub-texts of othering, particularly keeping the European continent and its environs in mind. According to Petrešin-Bachelez, “The focus would be how to look at Europe today through the concept of the ongoing processes of dehumanisation, which came from observing in around 2016-2017 when the idea came forth, in reaction to what was happening in Europe with waves of newcomers coming from the conflict zones. Very soon, it was clear that this was not going to be a project that would address only that kind of contradictory processes that accompanied those waves of newcomers which were, on one side, the lack of solidarity on a more global-European level but quite a huge mobilisation from the civic level. What came as a foreground to that was to observe this kind of dehumanising of the other, that is not European or perceived as not being a European citizen, it has been a process we have known in the era of colonisation, and then looking at where this kind of behaviour came from. What we wanted to do was to look critically at Europe and its processes at looking at the other and denigrating the other”.

InDEAFinite Vulnerability (2020) by Kengné Téguia | Not Fully Human, Not Human at All | STIRworld
InDEAFinite Vulnerability (2020) by Kengné Téguia Image: Fred Dott, Courtesy of Kunstverein in Hamburg

The exhibition at Hamburg is part of a larger project helmed by Petrešin-Bachelez in collaboration with KADIST in Paris that has spanned some three years and was initiated by commissioned artworks by Lala Raščić, Saddie Choua and Sensing Salon, with its conceptual framework adapting to various disheartening pollical developments through the course of its lifespan, with common ground being that all the participating artists were either living in Europe or speaking about Europe from perspectives that were inclusive of these fundamental dialogues. Some works, such as Choua’s installation, which involved the reading of a text in memory of notable female personalities, this time Toni Morrison, changed in significance and in this process created new conversations. The underlying narrative around safe spaces was influenced by the COVID pandemic and in effects on humanity. In Steinbrügge’s words, “It was quite intense having all these Skype discussions with all the artists and filmmakers involved. During these discussions we talked about how they were feeling, how we try to work, how we try to keep up with everything, how we uplift ourselves, and it became like a redline in the exhibition also when we talk about care and when we talk about the question of what needs to be changed, and I think the violence is something that shows us on a daily basis the problems we have in society clearly on all levels”.

From left to right: The Empire of Law (2019) Daniela Ortiz, Public Heroes and Secrets (2020) by Doruntina Kastrati and Labyrinth (2019) by Nilbar Güreş | Not Fully Human, Not Human at All | STIRworld
From left to right: The Empire of Law (2019) Daniela Ortiz, Public Heroes and Secrets (2020) by Doruntina Kastrati and Labyrinth (2019) by Nilbar Güreş Image: Fred Dott, Courtesy of Kunstverein in Hamburg

The driving motivation of the exhibition appears to be addressing the current ecosystem of dehumanisation and to this end, the exhibition travels through two distinct paths, one that is informed primarily from critical perspectives around these phenomena and a second which is directed with a focus on the politics of care though at more than one occasion these two directions meet. An example of this is Monira al-Qadiri’s Deep Float, which references the dubious practice of bathing in crude oil in Azerbaijan. While belonging to the latter of the aforementioned trajectories in terms of its subject matter, visually the installation invokes sense of inescapable doom related to sense of drowning in fossil fuels. Other artists whose works are on display at the Kunstverein includes Nilbar Güreş, Ibro Hasanović, Jelena Jureša, Doruntina Kastrati, Kaltrina Krasniqi, Pedro Neves Marques, Christian Nyampeta, Daniela Ortiz, and Kengné Téguia.

Installation view of EE-O (2018) by Lala Raščić | Not Fully Human, Not Human at All | STIRworld
Installation view of EE-O (2018) by Lala Raščić Image: Fred Dott, Courtesy of Kunstverein in Hamburg

“I think we have to reshape our relationship to nature and to other human beings in a certain way. I mean, for the last 30 years it was more about individualist behaviour and that came or was proposed from official sites, if you look at politics, the economy or education and so on. This is bringing the two together, especially when we are talking about the climate crisis and so on, we have to think of the two together. We have to take better care of each other and also of nature,” reiterates Steinbrügge.

Lamb chops should not be overcooked (2020) by Saddie Choua | Not Fully Human, Not Human at All | STIRworld
Lamb chops should not be overcooked (2020) by Saddie Choua Image: Fred Dott, Courtesy of Kunstverein in Hamburg

‘Not Fully Human, Not Human at All’ is on display at Kunstverein in Hamburg until January 24, 2021.

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