Audience interacts with the work at the opening of the exhibition.

By Dereck Marouço, in Berlin*


The exposure Love and Ethnology: The Colonial Dialectic of Sensibility (according to Hubert Fichte) was held in honor of the German author's series of 19 books, which together form a significant body of work on his travel experiences, shrouded in sex and spirituality. The importance of his narrative lies, in addition to the documentary and prose character, in the autobiographical force. The project had the support of the Goethe Institute and takes place after previous editions in Lisbon, Salvador, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago and Dakar. In Berlin, the project is curated by Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke, who merged works shown in previous exhibitions with new additions.

Hubert Fichte (1935 – 1986) lived radically at a crucial time in recent German history. The son of a Jewish father, as a child he had to hide in a bomb shelter to escape the Nazi threat. He was in Brazil three times, between 1969 and 1972, having experienced Afro-Brazilian spiritual practices during this period, in addition to many homosexual relationships, even living with a woman, the photographer Leonore Mau. It is in this context that he begins to form his History of Sensitivity, based on travel as an investigative method, when experiences and impressions are key to an in-depth knowledge of other cultures. Fichte was an outcast to the extent that being gay was still a crime in Germany in the 1960s. However, when traveling to countries with dictatorial regimes in the 1970s, such as Brazil, Portugal and Chile, he realizes the real antagonist of his History of Sensitivity: torture and the neglect of human rights.

View of the exhibition on the occasion of its opening last October.

For the exhibition in Berlin, more than 170 works were densely grouped, including painters such as André Pierre (Port-Au-Prince) and Canute Caliste (Trinidad) and artists representing the Harlem Renaissance such as Camille Billops, Owen Dodson & James Van Der Zee to German contemporary media artists like Michael Buthe. There are also a good number of Brazilian artists in the exhibition: Virgínia de Medeiros, Ayrson Heráclito, Miguel Rio Branco, Alair Gomes and the Bonobando Collective, exhibited in a grouped manner, with works by American artists such as Alvin Baltropp and Tione Nekkia McClodden in the background. . These two parts are permeated both by interviews and publications by Fichte and other writers in partnership with photographers such as Pierre Verger and companion Leonore Mau. Another section is dedicated to Fichte's literary influences, with books by Jean Genet, Isabelle Eberhardt, James Baldwin, Pier Paolo Pasolini and William S. Borrough, a literary script that constitutes a queer genealogy.

The opening of the exhibition featured the performance Preta Jardim / Omindarewa (2017) by the group Bonobando, presented by Lívia Laso, Vanessa Rocha and Adriana Schneider. In it, a black woman creates a narrative from the point of view of Casa das Minas do São Luís do Maranhão about the clash between religions and cultures, while handling a puppet of a white man. The work subverts the Eurocentric dynamic that imposes itself on other cultural aspects, especially African-American ones.

Tione Nekkia McClodden expose their work an offering | six years | the conjecture (2017), about the performance of a personal ritual for Xangô, interspersed with a video that highlights the poor perception of African-American religions by the masses.

Love and sex, recurring themes in Fichte, are portrayed in a bland way in the exhibition. The photos by Alair Gomes, Alvin Baltrop and Isaac Julien make explicit the sensuality and the proscribed desire, but in these three cases the selected photos always keep a distance between the camera and the object of appreciation and do not allude to an intimate study when considering the exhibition name.

The only works that portray sex closely are I'll Take Nothing When I Die, by Miguel Rio Branco (1980/1985) and Peep Show I-III (2017) also by Coletivo Bonobando, which narrates the sexual adventures of Jäcki (Fichte's biographical character) in Brazil with filmic images accessed through rubber holes. Among the large number of works, the only ones that make direct mention of the social complexity common to the points of the globe mentioned in the exhibition besides that of Rio Branco is All Saints' Bay (2017) by Ayrson Heráclito. While Rio Branco displays the scarred bodies of Pelourinho, Heráclito brings the sinister streets of wonderful Bahia at night.

BONOBANDO GROUP, Performance Preta Jardim / Omindarewa, 2017.

Love and Ethnology: The History of Sensibility uses the body of work composed by the German writer and criticizes the European perspective on underrepresented cultures with an interesting effort of shared curatorship. However, the exhibition does not investigate the term “ethnology” so much beyond the religious cultural meaning, which is also dissociated from its current context, in which spiritual practices are often pursued.

Even presenting a significant set of works, the project lacks the social sense that was experienced by Fichte in his various travels and that is inseparable from both the development of black culture and queer culture. The exhibition does not take advantage of the honoree's experiences to delve into the chosen topics and leaves an impression that the world has been simplified.

*Dereck Marouço is an art researcher, graduated in Art: History, Criticism and Curatorship from the Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo. He was part of the curatorial teams of the Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo and the Museum of Art of São Paulo as an assistant, assisting in several exhibitions and research. He lives and works in Berlin.

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