The history of German colonialism was long absent from the country’s consciousness. But the Berlin Exhibition at the Humboldt Forum sees a place for it – because as the seat of the German Empire, Berlin was also the source of German colonial policy.
Philip Kojo Metz’s invisible sculpture SORRYFORNOTHING highlights the gap in public awareness of colonial wars and their victims. Around 120 guests watched Metz’s art action on 24 October in the still empty space of the Berlin Exhibition at the Humboldt Forum.
The space held four large wooden crates, which were presumed to contain the sculpture. Then came the long-anticipated moment of unveiling – but the crates appeared to be empty and the sculpture invisible. The invisible sculpture was dedicated with a rite from the Akan people in Ghana. Musicians Miriel Cutiño Torres and Lara-Sophie Milagro accompanied the event with the premiere of the composition “Song for”. This work also addressed absence. The musicians were silent, and the vocals and sound collage were prerecorded.
Documentation of this action will be displayed in the “War” room of the Berlin Exhibition. The memorial itself will be cordoned off, and the floor marked.
Is displaying an invisible object the right way to draw attention to a gap in the knowledge of German history?
Philip Kojo Metz: A lot of people think it’s absurd that I’m presenting an invisible sculpture with SORRYFORNOTHING, yet it makes perfect sense to use something invisible to point out a gap. Invisibility is a classic topic in art with a long history – from the Holy Spirit to the conceptualist movement of the 1960s – and invites viewers to reflect for themselves. With SORRYFORNOTHING, I move beyond viewers’ individual reflections to engage with our history. Surprise and an element of excitement are indeed a desired part of the process. I try to find simple and striking images, yet also to break with them and occasionally leave people with open questions to convey complex subject matter.
Teaser for SORRYFORNOTHING
Many people might have seen your sculpture Le héros invisible in front of the German Historical Museum (DHM) in 2016-17 as part of the exhibition “German Colonialism – Fragments Past and Present”. How does SORRYFORNOTHING fit in with the rest of your work?
Philip Kojo Metz: I’ve been addressing African-German history for quite a while now with my Adler Afrika series. My starting point here was the Gross Friedrichsburg fortress built under Elector Frederick William in 1683 on the coast of what is now Ghana, and the eagle flag of the Margraviate of Brandenburg that flew above it. That sent me on a journey through German history on African soil with my artistic means of expression. The journey is not over yet. My mission is to have this part of history become part of the canon at German schools.
How do you view your work SORRYFORNOTHING in connection with a new culture of remembrance for the colonial wars and their victims?
Philip Kojo Metz: I try to find contemporary and appealing ways to evoke German colonialism, which has difficult and unpleasant associations. The focus is not always on the past, however, but also on the present. We Germans continue to derive substantial benefits from the global power structures arising from the colonial period. Maybe I can help alter our view of history and thereby also prompt a different and better understanding of our present situation.
Your work SORRYFORNOTHING will be part of the Berlin Exhibition at the Humboldt Forum. The location of the exhibition, namely the reconstructed Berlin Palace, has been the object of controversy. Why are you showing your work at this site?
Philip Kojo Metz: The “Berlin Postkolonial” association and its “No Humboldt21!” campaign have been stating in no uncertain terms for years now that the Humboldt Forum’s general outlook is eurocentric and restorational. I completely support this initiative. It calls for a boycott on working with the Humboldt Forum – which in itself is a type of absence. So the failure to show something is therefore also in line with “No Humboldt21!”. SORRYFORNOTHING is my way of highlighting this skewed state of affairs, and the location is the best place to have an effect. I’m pleased to see the courage and commitment by the Stadtmuseum Berlin and Kulturprojekte Berlin in integrating my work into the Berlin Exhibition at the Humboldt Forum – which is where it belongs as part of the history of this city and state!
The questions were posed by Franziska Schönberner, a member of the press team for the Berlin Exhibition at the Humboldt Forum, for issue 1/2020 of the MuseumsJournal.