This research project reconstructs the history of the recently closed Werkstatt der Kulturen (WdK) in Berlin, a platform for arts and culture by minority communities/ The research focuses on analyzing the conditions for its emergence and development, in light of the coloniality of the artistic landscape in Germany.
From 1993 to 2020 the Werkstatt der Kulturen (WdK)1 operated as the only state-funded organization in Berlin with an explicit mandate to foster the presentation of arts and culture by minority communities. Throughout its existence, the work of the institution seemed to be of little relevance to the more established city’s arts milieu, regardless of the artistic quality of its presentations,the level of expertise and the international recognition that artists presented by the institution may have had. I speculate that this neglect was not primarily due to a generalized invisibility of artists of Colour in the national cultural landscape, but that it responded more specifically to a lingering assumption, which positions art production and presentation practices by German and Germany-based, minority groups, as pertaining to the realm of socio-pedagogy rather than that of aesthetic practice; the difference being marked by the positions of the actors and by their contexts, rather than by the artistic works or the presentation formats themselves.
At least since the early nineties in Germany, under the term interculturality, the presentation of ‘culture’ becomes a medium of ‘international’ understanding followed in the quest for integration.2 In this way, not only do aesthetic practices by minority communities need to contend with a perceived lack of ‘contemporaneity’3 but become further entangled in a new function, not to be reconciled with a western concept of art, which is linked to the notion of autonomy since European Modernity. ‘Art’ seems to remain within the walls of the white nation; and ‘culture’ as the place for the rest. Within this landscape, some questions arise: firstly, at which point do artistic presentations by minorities qualify as art and at what point as community practice, in the specific German context? Where do the differences lie? Secondly, how do Western aesthetic categories operate to norm these divisions? And thirdly, what role have presentation and funding institutions taken in this normativization? These questions can be elucidated when turning the view to the WdK –its actors, institutional structuring, curatorial foci, and reception– in their interplay with German-specific discourses on migration and integration of so-called “persons with migrant backgrounds,” within the art institutional landscape in Berlin.
With a decolonial theory framework, this research analyzes the conditions in which this institution came to be and for its specific development, scrutinizing the workings of the coloniality of the German arts and culture landscape. The biography of the WdK, in context, is a case study for a wider phenomenon: the negotiation of ‘knowledge’ and ‘art’ categories in the realization of the post-migrant nation.
Methodologically, the project encompasses expert interviews, archival reconstructions and theoretical analysis. Situating itself in the realm of the curatorial, the modes of capturing the research process and the results will be both textual and performative. The constellating of the various strata will not only work on the page, but also in space –primarily with sound and recovered/rediscovered video and image-based material, in order to uncover possible webs of relations, mapping an audio archive of artistic diasporic movements. At the interface of qualitative, aesthetic and performative research, this project addresses pressing questions on critical diversity, one of the key themes in +dimensions, bringing its aesthetic practice-based research methodologies to the forefront.