Statue of Sakhmet (2023). Photo Lutz Knospe
BLACK LAND, RED LAND – RESTITUTE
21–28 December 2023
silent green, Kunstquartier Bethanien, Palais am Festungsgraben, public space
EXHIBITION AND PERFORMANCES
LÉONTINE MEIJER-VAN MENSCH
TBC (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz)
ÄM 53, a commemoration in public space (more information to follow).
silent green Kulturquartier, Kuppelhalle
Postcolonial Critique: Museum Collections, Cultural Heritage, and Nefertiti
15:00 Fazil Moradi on “Catastrophic Art”
15:20 Monica Hanna on Nefertiti
15:40 Nora Al-Badri on her work (“The Other Nefertiti” and others)
16:30 Discussion with Fazil Moradi, Nora Al-Badri, Sarah Imani, Léontine Meijer-van Mensch, moderated by Yunus Ersoy
Kunstquartier Bethanien, Studio 1
20:00 Performance YARA MEKAWEI
20:30 Performance HANI MOJTAHEDY
silent green Kulturquartier, Kuppelhalle
Postcolonial Realities: Contributions from Practice
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
Kunstquartier Bethanien, Studio 1
20:00 Performance CEVDET EREK
20:30 Performance ATTILA CSIHAR
Kunstquartier Bethanien, Studio 1
20:00 Performance YARA MEKAWEI and LEA DRAEGER
Palais am Festungsgraben
12:30 Monica Hanna on Nefertiti
Kunstquartier Bethanien, Studio 1
On Restitution and Commemoration
18:00 Discussion with Fazil Moradi, Monica Hanna, TBC (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz), Nora Al-Badri, Saraya Gomis, Elena Sinanina, moderated by Sandeep Sodhi
20:00 Performance HOUAÏDA
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 to 28 December 2023, methods developed by the festival team, artists and participants 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 and 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.”
To ready yourself:
Close your eyes. Imagine you are in the Archeological or Egyptian Museum you visited most recently. Go to an artifact of your choice or to one that you remember well. See if you can also remember its name or what you think its name might be. You can also give it your own name. Speak this name aloud. Pause. Try to picture the artifact precisely in your mind, try to memorize its shape. In your mind, step away from the artifact and leave the museum, without turning yourself around. Open your eyes. Take a moment and return to your everyday life. You will soon again see the artifact of your imagination, whenever it decides to visit you. Do not be afraid of this encounter.
“Dedication to SAKHMET” (Elena Sinanina, Yara Mekawei, Attila Csihar, and others)
The “Dedication to Sakhmet” for the statue of the god*dess, ”Who does good and who enlivens the Two Lands” (1390–1353 BCE, of Karnak, Thebes, modern Luxor, Egypt; from 1818 until today located in Turin, Italy and since August 2023 in Berlin, Germany), is a work that explores possibilities for closer encounters with the phenomenon of Sakhmet, without the imposition of postcolonial categories of “ownership of originals” and such categories’ production of value and meaning. Is not every Sakhmet statue we produce an “original”? What happens when an “original” encounters the “original”?
Sound artist Yara Mekawei will offer two new compositions and performative works that engage with “Dedication to Sakhmet” and were created as part of the artist’s research and preparations for this project. This will be Mekawei’s first performance with the Divine Sound Prism, a mobile sound object of her own design.
Yara Mekawei presented a composition for Nefertiti as part of BLACK LAND in 2022. “Sistrum,” performed in the Niobidensaal of Neues Museum, Berlin, thereby – if only briefly – released the Queen of Amarna from her solitude.
With “Earth” (2023), singer and artist Hani Mojtahedy presents a new performance and installation from her “Hjirok” work complex, a series of artworks dedicated to the landscape of Kurdistan – and to its disappearance and mythologies. Named after a water spirit, this series of works brings together memories of landscapes in the Iran-Kurdistan region and of residential and refugee spaces, while also evoking them as places threatened with destruction as a consequence of political struggles and climate change. But “Hjirok” also evokes the landscape of Kurdistan as a place of freedom – especially against the backdrop of current struggles in Iran.
The artist and musician Cevdet Erek explores relationships between space and sound and the multiple meanings they produce. His davul performance will here continue his long-running series of artistic adaptations and explorations of this drum instrument following appearances at Hamburger Bahnhof, Berghain, Maxim Gorki Theater, and other venues, and the album “Davul” (2017), released on Subtext Recordings of Berlin. The davul – also known as tapan, dhol, tabl, or by other names, depending on the place of geographic origin – is a drum found across Balkan, Middle Eastern and Anatolian countries, where it is traditionally used for festivals, announcements, military bands, rituals, and other in contexts.
Attila Csihar, vocalist and musician, presents a new performative work dedicated to Sakhmet. Csihar has long been working on experimental artistic formats that deal with the liminal spaces of transcendence and with the sayable and representable. Earlier this year, his “Baalbek” appeared on the Ideolgic Organ label under the banner of his solo project Void Ov Voices. It was one in a series of vocal performances and spiritual offerings recorded on trilithon fragments and the “Stone of the South”-monolith at the Temple of Jupiter in Baalbek, Lebanon.
The artist, author, and actress Lea Draeger has since 2015 been working on the “Ökonomische Päpst*” (Economic Popes*) series, which playfully interrogates patriarchal power relations and binary structures – and the question of how they can be overcome. Initially conceived as a series of 1000 Economic Popes*, it has since grown to comprise over 8000 postage stamp-sized portraits of popes of manifold, fluid genders and identities.
Following her 2022 contribution to BLACK LAND, the series was expanded to include a number of “Ägyptische Päpst.*” (Egyptian Popes*). Four of these drawings – which respond, among other things, to the artist’s encounter with Sakhment during the project – will be shown during the festival. On 27 December, a performance by Lea Draeger and Yara Mekawei will engage with the various names, aspects, and backgrounds of Sakhmet.
For the festival’s closing event, the artist and researcher houaïda has developed an initiation journey for the imagination. In “MEDITERRANÏA,” pluralistic and aquatic worlds will emerge as spaces in which beings, gods, and spectators can encounter one another.
These spaces are invitations to follow the fluid flows that exist beyond rigid definitions, to surrender to ambiguity and transformation together in a collective act of worlding.
“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.”
Contribution by Fazil Moradi on “Catastrophic Art”
Online contribution by Monica Hanna on Nefertiti
Contribution by Nora Al-Badri on her work (“The Other Nefertiti” and others)
Discussion: Fazil Moradi, Nora Al-Badri, Sarah Imani, Léontine Meijer-van Mensch, moderated by Yunus Ersoy
“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?
Contribution by Yara Mekawei on “Sistrum,” a composition for Nefertiti
Contribution by Elena Sinanina on “Dedication to Sakhmet”
Contribution by Saraya Gomis on governmental anti-discrimination work
Discussion: Yara Mekawei, Elena Sinanina, Johannes Auenmüller, moderated by Oliver Baurhenn
Contribution by Monica Hanna on Nefertiti
For the final day of the festival, Egyptologist Monica Hanna will – at the Palais am Festgraben, not far from Berlin’s Museum Island – present her extensive, years-long research on the provenance of Nefertiti and discuss preparations for her possible return.
Closing Panel: "On Restitution and Commemoration"
The festival will close out with a roundtable discussion in which the various topics and issues from previous discussions will be expanded upon in relation to possible futures. The 2022 St. Gallen project “Return SchepenIsis” initiated by artist and director Milo Rau, Monica Hanna and team – and the associated commemorative event ÄM 53 – have highlighted the connection between possible restitutions and the meanings they might hold for collective memory and for enabling (or hindering) commemoration and social collectivity. What and who do societies remember? Who tells their stories? What justifications have been proffered for holding human remains – and cultural and spiritual entities – within museum storage depots? Who or what do they energize by way of the “epistemic value” attached to them?
Discussion: Fazil Moradi, Monica Hanna, TBC (Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz), Nora Al-Badri, Saraya Gomis, Elena Sinanina. Moderated by Sandeep Sodhi
The events will take place in English. For the final discussion on 28 December 2023, there will be a simultaneous translation into German. Information in “Leichte Sprache” (accessible German) will be provided at the venues.
Concept and Artistic Direction Elena Sinanina Scenography and Light Design Shahrzad Rahmani Project Management Anne Diestelkamp Dramaturgy Yunus Ersoy Sound Design Christopher von Nathusius Research Advisory Johannes Auenmüller, Kerylos Boules Aziz Advisory Oliver Baurhenn Production Kristin Buddenberg Photography Lutz Knospe, Nick Ash Press Relations Rafael Sergi Graphic Design Birgit Karn English Translation Matthew James Scown Translation into ‘Leichte Sprache’ Anne Diestelkamp.
Statue of the god*dess Sakhmet (2023): Studio Babelsberg, Art Department: Gerhard von der Waydbrink (head of sculpture), Sandy Schmidt (3-D lab/ CNC mill, milling the statue) Ulf Schüler (sculptor), Robert Krüger (head of painting/ surface), Jahn Nickel (painting) based on a 3D model of the same statue, New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, 1390-1353 BCE, Thebes, Karnak, Temple of Mut. Granodiorite, 221 x 60 x 111 cm. Museo Egizio, Turin, Italy.
Concept: Elena Sinanina.
Divine Sound Prism (2023). Sound object by Yara Mekawei. Wood, loudspeaker, amplifier, wooden construction, screws, cable, battery. Production: Edgardo Rudnitzky.
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. Chair: Elena Sinanina, Yara Mekawei
Thanks to Fazil Moradi, Stéphane Bauer, Torsten Seefeldt, and Michael Akstaller.
The festival BLACK LAND, RED LAND – RESTITUTE is a space for encounter and exchange. We do not tolerate any racist, antisemitic, islamophobic, homophobic, trans*phobic, sexist statements or actions or any other forms of hostility.
If you feel that your boundaries have been violated, please talk to the festival staff.
As organizers, we reserve the right to deny access to the event or exclude anyone from who makes racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, sexist or other inhumane remarks.
Yara Mekawei, an artist and scholar, merges the urban pulse with architectural essence, crafting intricate auditory vignettes transformed into visual forms. Her work defies artistic norms, transmuting sound into sight through a synesthetic alchemy. Rooted in architectural philosophy, social historiography, and philosophical literature, she weaves conceptual dimensions for a diverse audience. Central to her approach is a forthcoming sonic opus, blending Sufi poetry and the wisdom of the “Book of the Dead”. Mekawei is, together with Elena Sinanina, chair of the BLACK LAND Initiative, which was founded in 2023 in Berlin.
Hani Mojtahedy studied traditional Persian music in Iran and began a career as a singer in 2000. Four years later, the Kurdish musician fled to Germany. Since then, Mojtahedy has released two albums, over 20 singles and several music videos. She combines classical music with jazz, pop, improvisation and pastoral songs. In addition to performing with the Czech National Symphony Orchestra and at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, Mojtahedy regularly plays benefit concerts for humanitarian projects.
Cevdet Erek is an artist and musician based in Istanbul. He engages with the broad spectrum of interfaces between tone, space, perception, reception and time, applying his extensive backgrounds as an architect, educator, musician and sound engineer and designer to rhythmically draw out parallels through site-reactive installations and sonic environments. His works have been exhibited at the Venice Biennale, Documenta, Hamburger Bahnhof, Istanbul Biennal, Art Institute Chicago, M HKA, and CTM Festival, among others. Most recently, Erek`s first solo exhibition, “in circulation”, was on view in Berlin at Galerie neugerriemschneider in the fall of 2023.
Since the mid 1990s Cevdet Erek has been part of the seminal Turkish band Nekropsi and teaches at Istanbul Technical University - MIAM.
Attila Csihar is a vocalist and musician, who lives in Budapest. Csihar is best known for his work in the Norwegian black metal band Mayhem and the American drone-doom project Sunn O))). In addition to his work in bands, Csihar repeatedly appears in artistic projects. In 2021, Csihar participated in the Richard Wagner-based music theater project "Soft Valkyrie" by the Hanover State Opera, in co-production with the Holland Festival and the Dutch National Opera. Also in 2021 he worked on the project "ARA" together with Elena Sinanina for the Volksbühne Berlin and also took on the title role. Csihar and Sinanina continued their collaboration in the BLACK LAND projects in 2022 and 2023.
Lea Draeger, born in Münster, is an actress (2013 and until 2023 in the ensemble of the Maxim Gorki Theater, before that at the Berlin Schaubühne, among others), visual artist, and author. Her debut novel “Wenn ich euch verraten könnte” was published by hanserblau of Hanser Literatur Verlage in 2022. Lea Draeger is represented by the gallery Ebensperger. A large part of her series "Ökonomische Päpst*” was shown in 2023 at the NRW Forum Düsseldorf.
houaïda is a composer, singer and scientist. She adopts a trans-disciplinary approach to critically analyze and deconstruct Western and normative perceptions of sound, music, and performance. She holds an MA in astrophysics and is influenced by scientific strategies and embodied practices centered on radical sensuality, collectivity and pluralism. houaïda is currently finishing her debut album: “MEDITERRANÏA”, an aquatic exploration of a homeland from a diasporic perspective.
Participants discursive part
Fazil Moradi is a visiting associate professor at Faculty of Humanities, Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, University of Johannesburg; associate researcher at the Institute for Social Anthropology, Austrian Academy of Sciences; and affiliated scholar at the Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Crimes against Humanity at the Ralph Bunche Institute for International Studies, Graduate Center—CUNY. He has been involved in collaborative research with medical scientists at the Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, studying the lasting impacts of chemical weapons. His recent publications include, “Catastrophic Art.” Public Culture, (2022) 34 (2 (97)): 243–264; “In Search of Decolonised Political Futures,” Anthropological Theory (Special Issue, 2023), and “Being Human: Political Modernity and Hospitality in Kurdistan-Iraq” (Rutgers University Press, January 2024).
Monica Hanna is an Egyptologist and the acting Dean of the College of Archaeology and Cultural Heritage, Arab Academy for Science and Technology and Maritime Transport in Aswan, Egypt. Her research focuses on space, knowledge, and identity of archaeological sites, with a particular focus on different reflections of heritage on identity of space and communities. Her current research focuses on decolonizing and democratizing archaeology, repatriation, and restitution amongst methods for the wider public to gain access to archaeology and heritage. She has a particular interest in digital humanities.
She has participated in various projects and initiatives for the restitution of ancient Egyptian cultural property, including the project "The Other Nefertiti" by Nora Al-Badri and Nikolai Nelles, and "Return SchepenIsis" by Milo Rau and team (2022), and most recently published a petition on Nefertiti in 2023 (http://nefertitibackhome.org)
Nora Al-Badri is a multi-disciplinary and conceptual media artist with a German-Iraqi background. Her works are research-based as well as paradisciplinary and as much post-colonial as post-digital. She lives and works in Berlin. She is the director for AI+Art at the ETH AI Center in Zurich. Her practice focuses on the politics and the emancipatory potential of new technologies such as machine intelligence or data sculpting, non-human agency and transcendence. Al-Badri’s artistic material is a speculative archaeology from fossils to artefacts or performative interventions in museums and other public spaces, that respond to the inherent power structures.
In 2013, together with Nikolai Nelles, she realized the project "The Other Nefertiti", which received substantial media coverage.
Yunus Can Ersoy (they/them) was born and raised in Zurich, and is a performer, director and dramaturg. After completing a BA in German studies, modern history and general and comparative literature, Yunus studied for an MA at the University of Zurich (cultural analysis) and at the Institute for Applied Theater Studies in Giessen. Yunus was a dramaturge at the Maxim Gorki Theater and currently works in the same position at the Schauspielhaus Zurich. Yunus is responsible for dramaturgy and moderation at the festival.
Elena Sinanina is an artistic director and curator, who lives and works in Berlin. After studying theater, German literature and psychology, she collaborated with various theaters, museums and exhibition institutions while also initiating and running interdisciplinary projects at the intersection of visual and performative art. She has developed ritual-based formats and experimental work with hypnosis, and, in 2018, trained as a hypnotherapist (clinical hypnosis in the tradition of Milton H. Erickson). Sinanina`s practice focuses first and foremost on the aesthetic exploration of the deep dimensions of history that operate in the collective unconscious. Since 2017, she has been presenting her own projects as a curator and artistic director. Together with Attila Csihar she developed, among others, the "BLACK LAND" project in 2022 and, since February 2023, has chaired the Initiative BLACK LAND e.V. together with Yara Mekawei.
Johannes Auenmüller has been curator at the Museo Egizio di Torino since January 2020. He holds a PhD in Egyptology from Free University Berlin and was research associate at the universities of Bonn, Münster and Munich. His main areas of interest include the sociology and regional prosopography of pharaonic Egypt, technology of metal production and bronze casting, and rock inscriptions and epigraphy in ancient Nubia. In Turin, he is involved in several ongoing projects to redesign important parts of the Museo Egizio’s collection. Johannes Auenmüller provided advice for the “Dedication to Sakhmet” that will take place as part of BLACK LAND 2023.
Sarah Imani is a lawyer and studied law at the Sorbonne and the University of Hamburg. She holds an LL.M. from NYU and an M.A. in Peace Studies from Bradford University. Her work and research focuses on international law, international criminal law, human rights and international legal theory. She has worked in these areas as a research assistant and lecturer. In addition to her work, she conducts research on Islamic (international) law. She is Legal Advisor at ECCHR. There she is responsible for the work on German and European colonial crimes and post-colonial critiques of the law.
Léontine Meijer-van Mensch, born in Hilversum in the Netherlands, is currently the Director of the "Grassi Museums für Völkerkunde zu Leipzig". Previously, she was Deputy Director at the Museum Europäischer Kulturen Staatliche Museen in Berlin and taught heritage theory and professional ethics at the Reinwardt Academy. Léontine Meijer-van Mensch studied history and Jewish studies in Amsterdam, Jerusalem, and Berlin and at the European Cultural Preservation in Frankfurt (Oder). She worked for various exhibition projects in Germany, Poland and the Netherlands, including as a researcher and teacher at the Jewish Museum in Berlin and the Jewish Historical Museum in Amsterdam.
Saraya Gomis is a German educator and political official who is active in the field of anti-discrimination, and others. From December 2021 to April 2023, she was State Secretary for Diversity and Antidiscrimination of the Berlin Senate Department for Justice, Diversity and Anti-Discrimination. In 2022, she spoke out publicly for the restitution of Nefertiti and the Pergamon Altar.
Oliver Baurhenn is co-founder of the CTM Festival for Adventurous Music & Visual Arts, Berlin, one of the leading innovative music festivals in Europe. He works as a curator, theorist and specialist in electronic contemporary music / sound art and the visual arts. He has a regular radio show on Berlin community radio reboot.fm and works on special radio features for the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation: ORF. He is also a spokesperson for the Council for the Arts, Berlin, as well as chairman of the prestigious Laguna Foundation for the promotion of sound art residencies.
Sandeep Sodhi is an art historian, art educator and curator. He studied art history, archaeology and philosophy at the Philipps University of Marburg and the University of Cologne. After stations at the German Forum for Art History Paris, the Musée d'Orsay and the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, he completed a scolarly traineeship at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden in 2022. Since 2023 he has been assistant curator at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Baden-Baden and also works as a curatorial assistant for the German Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2024. His research focuses on postcolonial and decolonial theory, anti-racist curating, art institutions as places of participation, and art as social practice.