documenta X - home June 21 - September 28, 1997
Alfons Hug
Director of the art, film and media department in the Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. From 1981 to 1994, he was in charge of the Goethe-Institute in Lagos, Medellín and Brasilia.
On the presence of art from Africa, Asia and Latin America in the documenta X

The expectations regarding the documenta X were great. As Catherine David is at least familiar with South America, one had hoped that in this art event, she would help facilitate the breakthrough of art from Africa, Asia and Latin America. These expectations were not fulfilled. In fact in this respect, the dX falls far behind Jan Hoet´s documenta.

I can´t agree with Catherine David´s position that, in the majority of the countries in these regions, visual art is not the most important form of expression. She shows films from the regions, and when one sees the visual arts as a whole, then film, which is based upon a ¨culture of images¨, is not so different from the visual arts. Certainly, in some parts of the world (for example in Arabian countries) there are better films than visual arts, but I cannot subscribe to such a position in general.

David didn´t dare to approach several decisive questions, for example how one deals with artists who are self-taught and in our sense ¨illiterate¨ (as in Africa), but nonetheless are doing relevant work. One could have imagined a few of these artists at the documenta, but they do not belong to an established art-scene, they aren´t chic, one may not even be able to communicate with them in English and would have had to have found completely different forms of communication. But David did not do this. All of the artists who appear at the documenta X belong, in a wider sense, to an art-scene which is defined according to Western criteria. In effect, those who didn´t fit a specific discourse were not invited.

There is a further argument as to why the documenta X should have included more art from Africa, Asia and Latin America. One of its most important themes is the relationship of the individual to the city, to the urban space. The majority of the world´s largest cities are, in fact, in the ¨Third World¨. When I work with metropolitan phenomena, I cannot simply look at what´s going on in Berlin, New York or London; I also have to look at what the artists in Cairo, Bombay, Mexico City or São Paulo are doing. For this reason alone, it would have been natural to look more closely at the Southern metropoles. And that there is interesting art to be found in these regions, was proven at the Venice Biennial two years ago, where Egypt won the prize for best pavillion.

Catherine David says that film, music, and literature have been more closely related to the emancipation movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America than the visual arts, but this definitely not so in China, Brazil or Cuba. There the visual arts are at the forefront, something which isn´t, by the way, the case for all of Europe. France for example, is one of the countries in which other artforms are superior to the visual arts. This, however, should not stop one from keeping an open mind; David did invite French artists, though I believe that French philosophy at the moment has more to offer than the visual arts.

Obviously, she is using different criteria for Europe than for non-European regions. She knows perfectly well that there is excellent art in Mexico, Brazil and Cuba. Why it is supposedly less relevant than Italian or Belgian art is something which needs to be explained more fully.

From an interview with Gerhard Haupt, 31 July 1997.
Home / Opinions

© Universes in Universe - Worlds of Art

Email  |  Impressum  |  Newsletter