The question often arises about the role of art, its necessity, when the public does not always understand it. Is it necessary to have a more socially engaged art, a political art bearing witness to our societies? Art fulfils many functions, is versatile and can not be defined within limited settings.
I had the honour of being invited to the 11th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art by the artist Sara Sejin Chang.
The Berlin Biennale exhibition was not only an opportunity to learn more about social problems in various countries in the world, but also to amplify artists from racialized and marginalized communities.
A couple of artists I discovered during the 11th Berlin Biennale
The 11th Berlin Biennale takes place until the 1st November. The list of artists is a non-exhaustive one, so I truly recommend you to visit the exhibition to discover many talented artists.
Sara Seijn Chang
Sara Seijn Chang (Sara van der Heide) refers in her artwork to the colonial narrative behind the adoption of thousands of children in South Korea in her work Four Months, Four Milion Light Years. The adoption of many thousands of South Korean children began during the Korean War (1950-1953) and contributed to a lucrative industry of transracial adoptions between South Korea and Western countries. More than 163,000 were adopted between 1958 and 2008, the majority of them in the United States, France and Sweden. This is also a way for the artist Sara Seijn Chang (Sara van der Heide) to share a shamanic healing journey at this 11th biennial, also an adoptee who grew up in the Netherlands and to pay tribute to the adoptee community.
For the 11th Berlin Biennale, Deanna Bowen helps us to understand in her work The God of Gods, how racialisation has been historically constructed in Western societies. She regularly addresses the topic by interrelating questions of trauma and memories of events feeding into the process of racialisation.
In 2010, in her video, Sum of the parts: what can be named, for example, she addresses the history of slavery and migration as experienced by her family. In 2012, her work, Invisible Empires, draws media attention with its theme exploring a perspective on the history of the Ku Klux Klan in Canada.
Malgorzata Mirga Tas
Malgorzata Mirga Tas, is a Bergitka Roma and visual artist. Her artistic work is inspired by her Roma culture combining different brightly coloured fabrics. For the 11th Berlin Biennale, Malgorzata Mirga Tas’ artwork ‘Romani Kali Daj’, is composed of pieces of clothing fabrics worn by her relatives. Malgorzata Mirga Tas depicts her relatives in a reflective, non romanticizing and observant reality, her relatives observing the three eras, past, present and future. Besides her artistic work, she also engages in projects against social exclusion and anti-Tziaganism.
Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro
At first sight, these masks catch the eye, attract attention, draw for the exotic imagination to which they suppose to refer. Castiel Vitorino Brasileiro, a young Brazilian artist with a master’s degree in psychology, approaches exoticization during the 11th Berlin Biennale as well as the colonial discourse, the commercialisation of the past, anchored in the Brazilian social context. The body used in Castiel Vitorino Brasileriro’s work is also a means of questioning the body genderization. A much needed work in the 11th Berlin Biennale.
Brenda v. Fajardo
Tarot is often perceived as a fortune-telling card game, somewhat mystical but slowly becoming demystified. Originally from the European continent, tarot spread outside of Europe during the colonial period. In the 18th century, tarot arrived in the Philippines and became a card game to predict the future as well. Brenda v Fajardo draws inspiration from the tarot frame, using a central image surrounded by text, presenting a present or a future.
The authors of these works, witnesses of history, of daily life under Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973 to 1990, are unknown. To date, 38,000 people reportedly have been tortured and 3,200 people have been missing or killed. Although they wanted to know more about what happened to their missing relatives, silence reigns. Slowly they recognised each other and met regularly to create what is called arpilleras. They used arpilleras to denounce the violence, the deprivation, the daily humiliations and the resistance to the dictatorship. Arpilleras were a way for these women to support themselves, as well as to expose what was really happening under the dictatorship.
An 11th Berlin Biennale, I must say, surprised me. Art is a field where it is still very difficult for artists of color to be heard and to get exposure. It’s the first time I’ve truly enjoyed an art exhibition, I was able to identify myself, to find a part of my history. US-American statistics regularly indicate the low visibility of racialised artists. In the 18 major American museums, 85% of the artists are white and 87% are male.
Witnessing the past, present and future, art is another way of showing realities that escape us. However, due to the lack of diverse narratives, many realities still elude us.