Of the responsibility of art. Steinmeier at the Documenta Fifteen, Norman Paech

Hamburg, Germany

20. VI. 2022

Federal President Steinmeier began his speech at the opening of the Documenta Fifteen in Kassel with the confession: “In the past few weeks I wasn’t sure whether I would be here today”. A visit to the Documenta is always worthwhile, especially this 15th one. But it would have He should have kept quiet and taken a look around. Then he should have left his manuscript in his pocket, which someone in the presidential office wrote for him, so as not to embarrass himself as he has done now. Because none of his prejudices, that of a dubious antifa group in Kassel, he finds confirmed. Nowhere in the exhibition is Israel’s statehood attacked or its existence questioned. Even the artists’ group “The Question of Funding” from Ramallah, which is the basis of general prejudice, criticizes However, the occupation and violence in the occupied territories did not call into question Israel’s statehood.

But where do you live, Mr President?

You say: “The recognition of Israel is the basis and prerequisite of the debate for us.” That may be the case. But you also know that no one in the world, no state, no person is obliged to recognize Israel. Certainly not an exclusively Jewish state, which is why Indonesia z. B. Has not recognized Israel. Do you want to force all artist groups visiting Germany into our remembrance dogma and subject their art to the Holocaust test? The American philosopher Susan Neiman from the Einstein Forum says that something has gone wrong in our efforts at reconciliation: “What has become apparent in the last two years is a reconciliation that has gone awry.” And her colleague Peter Beinart in the USA explains: “It got out of hand because the Israeli government, in cooperation with the German right, was allowed to define how the Germans should atone for their genocidal, anti-Semitic past”.

They emphasize: “Freedom of opinion and freedom of art are the essence of our constitution.” But: “A boycott of Israel is equivalent to a refusal to exist”, and thus “the limit has been crossed”. Make your way to Gaza, there you will see who is boycotting whom and with what consequences. Didn’t anyone tell you that the Palestinians’ globally supported BDS movement has only one goal, to force Israeli policies to comply with international law? A task that the German government has avoided for decades. During their last visit to Israel, they announced: “The position of the German government is that the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction in this case because there is no Palestinian state.” settlement policy in the occupied territories. The German government signed the 1998 Rome Statute, which obliges it to support the Court. But you help the possible war criminal to evade criminal responsibility.

They notice that “there are probably no Jewish artists from Israel represented at this important exhibition of contemporary art”. At the same time you concede: “It is part of the principle of this world art show that each exhibition is curated independently.” Responsibility cannot be outsourced.” What responsibility and whose responsibility? Why is a group of artists from Indonesia invited to curate a world and not a German exhibition in order to subject them to our musty quarrels about memory? The responsibility of ruangrupa is the gathering and presentation of a wide but never complete spectrum of international artists and art projects. If some countries are not taken into account, this is their free responsibility and not the alleged political responsibility of the federal government. They boast of the “most important world art exhibition”, but are obviously not interested in their designs and perspectives.

They demand that we “take a closer look and also listen”: “The long colonial history with tyranny and exploitation and the countless blind spots of coming to terms with it. The experience of oppression and disenfranchisement. Dealing with stolen cultural assets.” Go to the pavilion of the artist group “The Question of Funding” and you will learn more about Palestine’s history of colonialism and violence, which is still ongoing today, than you would from your interlocutors in the Central Council of Jews or the hunt-hungry anti-Semitism commissioners . Has no one in your office read the numerous reports by the UN human rights commissioners, Human Rights Watch and most recently Amnesty International on the apartheid state of Israel? There are enough human rights scandals in the world. But this one is the longest and one of the roughest.

They would have wished “that all of this had been discussed before the opening of this documenta.” Ruangrupa’s offer of a public forum to discuss the allegations has been rejected. They did not want to leave the composition of the forum to the curators themselves. Have you missed the years of heated arguments about Israeli occupation policy? The dispute over discussion rooms up to the Federal Administrative Court, which acquitted the BDS movement of the allegations that you are now bringing up again earlier this year? Only the Federal Supreme Court created the necessary freedom for the discussion. The unqualified decision of the Bundestag that describes the BDS movement as anti-Semitic? Even if that were the case, it could not justify a ban or rejection of a discussion space. Your accusation of “boycotting instead of discussing” does not apply to the BDS movement. You got confused there. He meets the city councils, who have committed their municipalities not to grant any space to discussions about the Palestine conflict – until the Federal Administrative Court declared the decisions illegal.

After all, Mr. Federal President, you want to “strengthen this place, the documenta. We need them”. Right, but not like that. The Palestinian artist group is called “The Question of Funding” with a deeper meaning. How about emphasizing your strength with a hefty donation to the artist group from Ramallah? A reasonable reparation.


The opinions and views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Kana’an’s Editorial Board.