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3 blaue und 3 gelbe Blumen neben dem Ausstellungskatalog grenzenlos

grenzenlos – a bookazine for an exhibition at the Museum of Work in Hamburg

From September 30, 2020 to July 18, 2021, the Museum of Work in Hamburg presented an exhibition with the title “Grenzenlos. Kolonialismus, Industrie und Widerstand” on German colonialism, colonial industries and resistance. The starting point were the deficits in dealing with the history of the site and the rubber industry in Hamburg. Caoutchouc from German and other European colonies was processed where the museum is located today. If you missed this exciting exhibition, don’t worry: Josephine Apraku, Christopher Nixon and Rita Müller have published a bookazine on the exhibition with Shift Books (formerly KOCMOC Publishing Space). The work – something between a book and a magazine – is a true piece of art: inspiring, educational and enriching. It is based on the ideas of diversity and intersectionality.

Every aspect of the publication seems thought out to the last detail, even if Christopher Nixon and Josephine Apraku remain self-critical in a conversation about the creation of the bookazine that is a part of it. A little bit of an ambivalence remains most of the time. Here, I still want to focus on the compelling elements of this challenging project: The typeface is based on graphics by Black intellectual W. E. B. Du Bois, so that each letter emphasizes the resistant content. The historical photographs from the territories formerly occupied by Germany that are reprinted in the bookazine were altered and contextualized with commentary to break rather than reproduce their violence. Additionally, contemporary photographs by BIPOC artists who present their own realities and perspectives take up most of the bookazine’s pages. The content has been structured with the help of quotations or the titles of works by important Black writers – the sections are called, for example, “Things Fall Apart” after Chinua Achebe’s novel, “Poetry is not a Luxury” after Audre Lorde’s essay, and “Deutschland Schwarz Weiß” after Noah Sow’s non-fiction book. In addition to the photographs, there are essayistic and scholarly texts, interviews, and poems on (neo-)colonialism, racism, contemporary exhibition practice, and the different life experiences of BIPOC in English and German. Contributors include Natasha Kelly, Lahya Aukongo, Maria González Leal, Alok V. Menon and many more.

The bookazine, Apraku and Nixon say in the foreword, invites ambiguous, complex ways of overcoming established notions of either-or. It is explicitly aimed at a BIPOC readership, but likewise offers a learning space for white readers. This is a coffee table book with profound relevance that is sure to spark exciting conversations with guests, especially because it contains many questions that contributors approach, circle, or leave unanswered, such as: Which museum visitors are included in the curation process? How can colonial violence be addressed in publications or exhibitions today? Can white people contribute to a critical reflection on whiteness in the context of colonialism? What is a consistent approach to diversity?

What do you think?