Can we talk about the afrofuturisme, and the place of Blacks in science fiction, on the occasion of a festival, inviting artists black? This is the question that is now posed at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien. The institution in berlin has launched an exhibition series called Space is the Place. The title of the event is directly inspired by a song of the avant-garde group of free-jazz Sun Ra Arkestra. The musician Sun Ra was even made into a movie, released in 1974, which tells how Afro-americans are fleeing Earth and settling on a new planet. Space is the Place is one of the cornerstones of this artistic movement that has inspired the painter Jean-Michel Basquiat, the musicians George Clinton, Janelle Monaé, Erykah Badu, or the adventures of the Marvel superheroes Black Panther.
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That is to say, if the event in berlin was going to be monitored closely by the supporters of this movement. At the opening, on the 1st of August, the activist group Soap of the Day denounced “an old old song curatorial” in favour of white men. While the name of Space is the Place is emblematic of the culture afrofuturiste, the organisers of the event are not explicitly reference. The press release simply underlines that for the past 60 years, the group Sun Ra’s waiver of its free-jazz on the moon and “many projects which push the limits of physics”. A few lines later are boasted scientific advances in connection with the conquest of space and in particular the projects of conquest March by the industry of south african-born Elon Musk. A potent mix for the collective Soap of the day. In an open letter, the group accuses Christoph Tannert, curator of the Künstlerhaus Bethanien, of acting only in favour of the “white muskulinity”, a “muskulinité white”.
Everyone, curating an exhibition that doesn’t celebrate white supremacy isn’t rocket science! #soapdujour #soupdujour #bethanien #berlin https://t.co/ihc8yVKndK
— Judith Eilers (@judith_eilers) July 30, 2019
The choice of the artists presented adds to the fury of the collective according to The Guardian : on 22 artists, there are 18 white men, three white women and a Singaporean. Only, Juan Atkins, DJ black american guy from Detroit asked to animate the opening, provides a deposit of afro-american. The collective Soap of the Day therefore requires an explanation. “Do you think that this project afrofuturisme can be in tune with the vision of a billionaire South African whose desire is to colonize as many territories as possible ? Do you really believe that the choice of these artists was at a crossroads of ideas to Elon Musk and the afrofuturisme?” According to the group, this leads to “marginalize” all the artists who are not “white men”.
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these are the questions that Christoph Tannert is not concealed. “Even if we don’t like the anonymity of the group, we take seriously his arguments. The name of the exhibition has been at the origin of confusions, that we regret, ” he explains in Figaro. Our ad could make you think that the theme would be the afrofuturisme, but this is not the case. In fact the proposed work have nothing to do with this, nor with Elon Musk.” The commissioner, however, proposes to bring together all the world on the occasion of a round table on the topic the 2nd of September. And the institution claims to be able to expose each and every year, of artists, of which 50% are women, and many of the “people of color”. “The programming freedom of a curator must be seen and respected as the “artistic freedom”, says Christoph Tannert.
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We have read with interest the criticism by Soap of the Day about our upcoming exhibition Milchstrassenverkehrsordnung (Space is the Place). We acknowledge that the artist list is not diverse and that the wording of the press release required more nuance to better explain our intentions of presenting an exhibition that explores the many ethical and philosophical questions raised by our potential future beyond Earth. It is certainly not our intention to marginalise gold exclude the perspectives of artists of colour, nor artists who do not identify as male. At Künstlerhaus Bethanien, we are proud to host, exhibit and support artists from a broad range of backgrounds and disciplines. Our present resident artists are from Iceland, Brasil, South Africa, Japan, Korea, Luxembourg, Taiwan, Canada and Québec, Japan, Norway, Iran/US, New Zealand, Denmark, Republic of Moldova, Bolivia, USA, Israel, Cyprus and the Netherlands, all of whom will be presenting work in our Open Studios this Thursday. We regret that this particular exhibition is not reflective of our diverse and international outlook and take the criticism very seriously. We very much welcome in-depth discussions at the opening and open studios on Thursday. Further, we will organize a public discussion at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien in early-September to which we would like to welcome the participation of the authors of the critical letter.