by Janine C. Grant
During my recent visit to Berlin, I felt the city’s pulse, and it thumped a steady beat of art. It seems you cannot go anywhere in Berlin and not come across a museum, gallery, or outdoor market brimming with artists selling their handcrafted wares. Prices are tailored for the starving non-nine-to-fivers, restaurants serve breakfast till four pm, and historic buildings have been transformed into artist sanctuaries.
The Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien serves as a prime example. A hospital built in 1847 now functions as an exhibition and studio space for contemporary art. At almost five thousand square feet with over 200 metres of wall surface, the building houses BBK Berlin printing studio, artist studios, project spaces for exhibitions and theatre and dance, as well as much more. They produce six exhibitions a year and focus on current social and cultural issues that have particular local relevance. Journey to Jerusalem: Artistic Positions Between Religion, Tradition and Taboo is a multi-artist collaboration that addresses these themes.
As I walked to the gallery through the area of Kreuzberg, I was struck by the beautiful architecture and joie de vivre of the people. We arrived at the far end of the hospital and headed through halls painted in bubble-gum-colour-graffiti-style-art, our voices echoed off the walls behind us. The exhibit, once within, was a stark contrast. I first encountered Islamic Chapel (2006) by Nezaket Ekici. Eerily quiet, a fragile structure that resembled a Christian place of worship was lit from within, making Koranic verses cut out of black fabric glow from without. In the next hallway were crisp, life-size photographs of people wearing traditional religious clothing with faces of resignation. In one image, a young boy, frail and white, holds a raw heart against his chest crossed with thin ribbons of white lace, traces of blood on his fingers.
Madonna with Child (2009) by Rabi Georges
Each room held photographs, paintings, video or installation, and brought together ten different Berlin-based artists who practice or are influenced by the three major monotheistic religions: Islam, Judaism and Christianity. The exhibit wished to engage in an inter-religious dialogue, highlighting the conflict and coexistence of religions.
Painting by Yury Karchenko
When I left the exhibit, walking the same streets back to the U-Bahn station, I noticed not the buildings but the non-German graffiti scrawled upon it. I noticed not the cafés but the people within them. The exhibit brought to my attention another aspect of Berlin, one where peoples of different backgrounds and different religions live together. Kreuzberg came to life in a different way for me; one that involved the underlying interplay found in every city. The artists tapped into a second pulse of the city, a deeper one of multiculturalism, religion, immigration, and strife.
Journey to Jerusalem: Artistic Positions Between Religion, Tradition and Taboo is curated by Stéphane Bauer at Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien. For more information, go to: http://www.kunstraumkreuzberg.de/start.html