Exhibitions in Berlin
Probably the most captivating artworks that caught my attention during the Gallery Weekend Berlin were artworks by a well-established artist Anna Boghiguian at KOW, and Milja Laurila from The Helsinki School.
KOW is an art gallery focused on socially-oriented art. The artists from the Helsinki School who use a photographic process as a way of thinking are represented by a gallery space called Persons Projects, located at the same street.
Topics of the art review
The art review explores two artworks by two different generations of women handling the topic of colonialism and propaganda.
Even though both of the topics are persistent in our everyday culture and we can feel their impact on our day-to-day lives, the legacy of the impact still needs to be discussed on regular basis. Just to be on the same page here I have borrowed a short definition of colonialism from Google.
Colonialism is a policy or practice of acquiring full or partial political control over another country, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically.
Artist Anna Boghiguian at KOW Gallery
The first artist is Anna Boghiguian of Armenian ancestry who is in her late 70s. Boghiguian lived and studied political science in Cairo during the '70s. Later on, Boghiguian moved to Canada to pursue her career in art, avoiding the difficulty of being censored and deprived of thinking in a liberal way within her field of profession.
From my point of view, that was an extremely interesting reason to enter the art world because artists have been fighting against censorship on many levels for generations and yet some people come into the art world because of the freedom of way of thinking. It made me recall the controversy of Duchamp's Urinal in 1917 by which he stated that anything can be an art.
Anna Boghiguian artworks are researched-based projects focused on particular labor exploiting industries typical in given locations for example salt traders in Turkey or mining of metal-containing ore such as copper or tin and similar in Cornwall in the United Kingdom.
The ground floor of the gallery space was like a complete story of the old times when Cornwall was blooming with the heavy industry. The old times were conveyed by moderate-sized copper cut-out figures of people who used to mine the ores.
The scattered gravel on the ground of the exhibition space has just brought us even closer to the feel of ore extraction mixed with the final output of the mining industry which was essentially tins for sardelles. All that might sound a little too nostalgic if it were not for a critical voice made of again tin or copper cut-outs of a drum and a drumming figure.
The whole installation has reminded me of two things. The first one was a novel by German author Günter Grass, The Tin Drum published in 1959. The second one was my time living in Plymouth in the UK because the project presented by KOW was originally commissioned by Tate in St. Ives in Cornwall.
Chains of Colonialism
In the past, Cornwall was well known for a huge number of tin, copper, lead, and iron mines. The area used to be considered a location of heavy industry rather than a touristic hotspot as it is today. The last mine was closed in mid of the ´90s. Although the need for tins for sardelles did not vanish, it was just cheaper to get them from the countries where the workers' lives and rights are not as valued as they are in the United Kingdom.
The value of human lives and the power of labor rights outweighed the need for basic components. As usual, it is just easier to exploit others than invest in your own resources and make them available for use in a sustainable way.
The Tin Drum Günther Grass´ Novel
Going back to the Grass´novel, The Tin Drum, made me to see the installation as a truly powerful testimony to the latent legacy of colonialism.
Apart from many other issues, the novel talks about propaganda and how propaganda turns people into mindless crowds or beasts. Seeing the moderate-sized cut-outs of a drum and drumming man reminded me that the wicked truth about colonialism and propaganda is still here and valid as ever.
Why should you ruin your own resources if you can do it somewhere else out of sight of everyday consumers? Then just create a myth or propaganda about how everything is perfect and nobody gets hurt or abused and sadly, the masses will believe it without question.
How The Younger Generation Keeps Challenging Monuments of The Past
A manner in how we can deal with bursting such a bubble of propaganda was presented by the second artist of my choice Milja Laurila and her series of Untitled Women. Laurila is one generation younger than Anna Boghiguian but nevertheless, Laurila dives deep into the archives of anthropology of colonized countries.
Taste of Anthropology of Colonized Countries
Laurila´s main focus is on photographs of naked women and children from former German colonies. It is a series of enlarged photographs from a book titled Woman An Historical Gynæcological and Anthropological Compendium published in 1885.
The book was supposed to present a scientific study of humans and their culture but from today´s perspective, it ended up as evidence of the profiteering interests of the male-dominated world.
The original enlarged photographs were put in frames to be protected from possible damage but in this case the glass, the artist used sandpaper that was placed directly behind the glass and taped on to create the effect of sanded glass frames.
This way Laurila covered the nakedness of women and children but left a narrow slot of clear space for the eyes of the silent witnesses of the exploitation.
Testimony of The Exploiting Nature of Colonialism
On one hand, I am always aware of false modesty in a form of blurring nude photographs but in this case, leaving just the opening for the women´s eyes is a testimony to the exploiting nature of colonialism and propaganda.
Hidden behind a legit scientific research & work, Laurila's series of photographs exposes the secluded archives of our shameful history where women and indigenous people were treated as mere objects of science and desire rather than equal human beings in the name of science and research.
Overall, I was very happy to see that the fight for the recognition of colonialism & propaganda as a deep bloody stain on human history has not disappeared but instead is picked up by the younger generations and exposed for what it is or was.
I see those two artworks as gems within the contemporary art scene because recently I have gained an impression that the only expectation from art is to match a decor of your house. Neither of those artworks would be purchased to fit your sofa or dining table.
Both of the artworks raise awareness and question the past. It does not provide a solution, which is not the task of the art anyway, but it brings attention to the past and questions the monuments of the past.