• Art
  • A new era of HKW: Resistance and reshaping a Berlin institution


A new era of HKW: Resistance and reshaping a Berlin institution

The Berlin institution Haus der Kulturen der Welt reopens with a critical look at colonialism and forms of resistance.

Abdias Nascimento, Oxunmaré Ascende [Oshunmare steigt auf, 1972], Acryl auf Leinwand, 152 × 102 cm. IPEAFRO Black Art Museum Collection, digitale Reproduktion von Miguel Pacheco e Chaves, RCS Arte Digital.

“God grant that not only the love of liberty but a thorough knowledge of the rights of man may pervade all the nations of the earth, so that a philosopher may set his foot anywhere on its surface and say: ‘This is my country.”

On the evidence of this first exhibition, it looks like HKW is in good hands

Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote carved into the stone at the entrance of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt has come under scrutiny by the new director of the HKW, Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung. The charismatic Cameroon-born curator considers it a “colonial gesture” but “one that shouldn’t be erased”. Rather, it requires explanation.

To that end, he’s installed on vivid plastic sheets in front of the stone carving in order to make the original quote impossible to read clearly – and, more than that, it a has been joined by statements advocating togetherness and unity by “deep thinkers” like Hinemoana Baker.

This site-specific installation is emblematic of the rethinking that has swept through the highly symbolic Berlin institution that is HKW. Many of its spaces have been renamed, their functions altered. One room now bears the name of the Black radical thinker and writer, Beatriz Nascimento. Inside this particular hall the Beninese-French photographer and visual artist, Laeïla Adjovi, has placed chalk birds around her photographic works to symbolise the enslaved people who lost their lives through the transatlantic slave trade. 

Charmaine Watkiss, The Warrior’s Way: Recalling the lost legacies (2022), Gemälde, Kaffee, Grafit, Bleistift, Kohlestift, Aquarell, 22 kt Muschelgold, Tinte auf Papier, gerahmt, 86 × 66 cm. © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023.

The exhibition which brings in this new era at HKW rests on the idea of “quilombo”, the name given to communities organised by fugitive slaves in colonial Brazil who survived by farming and in some cases, raiding. What is being brought to our attention here are the different ways they managed to preserve and celebrate their African culture and how that resistance informs our contemporary world, offsetting the western-centric viewpoint. The show is titled “O Quilombismo: : Of Resisting and Insisting. Of Flight as Fight”. 

The selection of works is varied, surprising and, largely, all worthy of deeper exploration. There’s the canvas made in collaboration with termites, the fabric exploration of the colour indigo (blue) and Germany’s continued stranglehold over its production. Bunches of Oscar Murillo’s baked corn and concrete hang ominously over the auditorium of the conference hall. Everything has been opened up, reconsidered, reexamined. 

Acts of craftsmanship and generosity pervade this vibrant, energetic and expressive exhibition. One of the works in the main exhibition hall are the photographs of Brazilian artist Moisés Patricio’s where hands have been arranged in a spiritual circle on the floor. These open hands, holding offerings and roughly scrawled statements provide non-transactional gifts and expect nothing in return – this is the antithesis to capitalist, colonist endeavours. 

It might be too soon to judge but, on the evidence of this first exhibition, it looks like HKW is in good hands. 

  • Starting from 4pm on Friday 2,  concerts, lectures, performances, processions, readings, and rituals as well as the launch of the exhibition project “O Quilombismo: Of Resisting and Insisting. Of Flight as Fight” will take place throughout the weekend (2–4th June). The opening concerts at 8.30 pm on the terrace will see a performance from the wonderful Congolese soukous musician, Awilo Longomba.