A catchy title, but is it appropriate? — Pre-Visit Comments on “30kg” Exhibition at Berlin Global

Although I visited Berlin Global at the (new) Humboldt Forum Berlin Global months ago, I couldn’t have any chance to settle down my comments to illustrate a comprehensive post. But the upcoming “30 kg” exhibition in the Berlin Global Freifläche – Open Space raised some questions and a post on pre-visit comments got priority

Berlin Global is “the Berlin exhibition” at the Humboldt Forum for those unfamiliar. It has a participatory exhibition approach by combining images + footage + interview videos with maps + data visualization + artworks, and hosting games to engage with the visitors. Migration is not among Berlin Global’s seven existing themes (Revolution, Free Space, Boundaries, Entertainment, War, Fashion, and Interconnection) but “is felt” in the exhibition rooms. Moreover, the Open Space in Berlin Global, as stated in their concept paper, is based on a jury selection. The applicants are free to propose their exhibition topics in addition to the aforementioned seven.

[Berlin Global’s] Rich in variety and full of surprises, the immersive installations and atmospheric presentations invite visitors into these realms and the underlying diversity of Berlin. We let those who know the city speak: residents, experts, artists, initiatives and associations. Their stories, experiences and perspectives energise the exhibition.

Berlin – City of stories

The curators of the upcoming exhibition at the Berlin Global – Open Space, “30kg”, Burcu Argat and İzim Turan, put their focus on migration and gender. But how?

On one of BERLIN GLOBAL’s Open Spaces, seven Turkish Berliners reflect on their own experience of migration. Their belongings are no longer useful in Berlin, their mother tongue finds no exact translation. As transcultural women, they renegotiate everyday life – a liberation for some, for others a loss. Through the installation, the group invites visitors to consider their own identity. The project also draws a parallel to the 1920s, when independent women from Turkey migrated to Berlin and had to redefine themselves, just as they do today.

30 kg – Open Space

I have to say, the curators got a pretty catchy title, “30 kg,” to promote the exhibition within the context of “migrated belongings.” But does it fit the case – the case of migration history from Turkey?

You’re allowed to check in up to 30 kg of free luggage at the airport – one full suitcase for a new life in a new country. But what happens when your things, your language, even your own identity take on different meanings upon arrival?

30 kg – Open Space

I sent the exhibition link to a friend who is also active in arts and culture scenes in Istanbul, and their reply was as expected: “But what about the exhibition in DEPO? Isn’t it culturally inappropriate?”

For those who don’t know, or as a reminder, in 2014, DEPO İstanbul held an exhibition titled “20 Dollars 20 Kilos.” The exhibited materials shed light on a rarely known migration case in the history of Turkey: The forced migration of thousands of Istanbul Greeks.

While thousands of Istanbul Greeks-who, by and large, had never been to Greece in their entire lives-were being deported, they were only allowed to take 20 kilos of baggage and 20 dollars with them.

20 Dollars 20 Kilos – DEPO İstanbul

As it is stated on the “30 kg” exhibition opening invitation website, “Göç, değişimdir: Değişitirendir – Migration is a change: Migration changes [x].” But can we easily apply a symbolic narration of a particular ethnic minority deported from Turkey to all migration stories? What does 30 kg symbolize in this exhibition, especially compared to the state deportation of an ethnic minority group under restricted conditions of taking only 20 Dollars and 20 kg?

I kept thinking about the emphasis on 30 kilos as the following questions popped up in my mind: Who are the exhibition participants, and what is their reason for migration? How are their migration experiences in Berlin? How does gender play a role in their experiences as migrants? Do they still travel to Turkey or not? If not, can’t someone bring some more items from Turkey? If yes, can’t they pay for extra baggage? Or are they banned from traveling to Turkey and don’t have any traveling contacts? 

As I stroll around the exhibition website and realize I can’t get enough information about the content, more questions arise: What is on display? Does the show tell their experiences in Berlin or stories of their “migrated belongings”? 

Last but not least: In the exhibition framework, there is a concert and talk with the participants joined by the singer. 

Who is this singer?
Wait for it:
Gaye Su Akyol A white, privileged activist living in Moda (a sidenote for those familiar with the social stratification in Istanbul.)

The concert is on Tuesday, and the exhibition opening is on Thursday. I really didn’t get the PR idea behind it; maybe, just the scheduling issues of the parts. But: Why invite a singer from Turkey to talk about migration in Germany?

One question raises another, and without comprehensive information concerning the content on display, there is no way to get any answers. But I can get from the exhibition text that it sounds like a homogenization of migration from Turkey, even though different motivations and reasons exist, such as economic or educational causes or political asylum. Moreover, it seems like the role of intersectionality is avoided. OK, migration and gender are current hype topics in global arts and culture scenes, but where is the class? Even is gender homogenous?

I hope to find some answers in the exhibition space.

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