Why so personal dramatic stories? — A short discussion on exhibiting migration and gender  around “the 30 KG” #BerlinGlobal #exhibitionbuzzy

Why so personal dramatic stories? — A short discussion on exhibiting migration and gender around “the 30 KG” #BerlinGlobal #exhibitionbuzzy

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Finally, I got a chance to visit the 30 KG exhibition at the Berlin Global — in the Berlin exhibition in the controversial Humboldt Forum. Indeed, it is hard to call “the 30 KG” an exhibition, as it is a corner in the exhibition halls of the Berlin Global. At the entrance, after the museum professionals’ kind greetings and information concerning the exhibition halls and the wristbands as part of the visit — which will be discussed in another blog post —, I said: “Thanks for the info, but I had seen the exhibition before and experienced the wristband. I want to get to the 30 KG exhibition.” As I finished, I saw how their eyes got a blank, confused look. I understood their reaction as I got to the point: It is just two mid-scale walls at the corner — more like an art installation rather than an exhibition with a narrative, and it is not only because it has an object installation in the middle.

The exhibition design is composed of a boarding pass on one wall introducing the exhibition textually, more texts on the other wall, and an object installation that items are split out of a suitcase in the middle, again, along with texts. It reminded me of a crucial statement in a curatorship workshop I attended years ago: “Nobody visits an exhibition to read.” We were working on writing for exhibitions, and the workshop conductor showed different welcoming and information texts and labels to explain the core elements of curatorship. The corner I was looking at in the Berlin Global exhibition halls is the opposite of what we discussed in that workshop.

One quickly gets the point: Some issues concerning the migrant women from Turkey living in Berlin are on display. However, it is hard to get what the issues are. Hence, one asks themselves: What is the propositional statement of this corner in the exhibition? I mean, what are the objectives and vision for making this exhibition corner itself, and what are the objectives and vision for displaying this at Berlin Global?

It definitely needs a particular post to discuss how and why not to design an exhibition on migration and gender by bringing together several unrelated topics along with long texts, but I keep the discussions around a general and crucial question for this post: Why so drama? — Why can’t we discuss migrant and refugee women’s years-long fighting and achievements in Berlin? We must keep telling our (hetero-)sexist and racist discrimination experiences in daily life by all means. Nevertheless, we can still make them visible and audible by telling the story from the achiever’s / survivor’s side, not the oppressed one’s / victim’s. 

In my pre-visit comments post, I have already mentioned how problematic I find applying a narrative of a particular migration story from Turkey to define the concept of losing in migration. Plus, the title is incorrect — one can bring less than 30 KG to Germany when it concerns the baggage rights on one flight ticket.

“Dear all, gather together; I have to make an announcement!” — In my first post, I did not mention this topic on purpose because it felt too much at once. However, after talking with my friends each time I informed them about “the 30 KG”, they all got confused: “But one can only bring 20 something kilo, right?” Right — you did not miss any info, dude, but they did. For those unfamiliar with flying to Turkey, almost all airline companies have a ticketing policy selling flights under different categories with different baggage kilos. However, there is no 30 kg option unless you pay for the extra baggage. 

I questioned a lot about what I was expecting from “the 30 KG”. I guess I finally found it: The reflection of the PR campaign at the opening into the exhibition corner — despite its historically and culturally inappropriate title, inviting a popular singer from Istanbul for a concert followed by a discussion hosting her at the opening brought me some hope before my visit. However, at one of the corners of the Berlin Global exhibition, I was trying to understand the selection policy of seven women for the exhibition:  Why could six women have only talked about a chosen object; in contrast, only one had the chance to tell her story longer? From her text, we understand that “the chosen one” is a trans refugee woman. Then who are the other women? Why are these six women on display in the object installation while one object got separated and was put on a pedestal within a glass box? The most important one is that if “the chosen one” has any purposes aligned with the exhibition’s narrative, why can one not get it at first gaze? Are art and exhibition not supposed to talk alone, and do labels provide secondary information? I have to admit, I was also hoping to get some more hints about talking about the change in migration by signifying the concepts with “loss in kilos,” but I could not find any. I still keep questioning why they did not bring more items later in the years. Are they restricted from entering Turkey and do not have any contacts for transportation? I am stuck in questioning because I still do not know any of these women except one.

I got surprised when I saw Michelle (Demischevic) at “the 30 KG.” We met at an event on March 8, 2019 — where she was the moderator, and I was one of the speakers (in the name of DaMigra e.V.). We had a quite reproductive discussion and so much fun that day and a couple more times as we met friendly afterward. Due to the daily load, we could not have been catching each other recently. I read Michelle’s text in the exhibition by feeling her suffering — again. As it also concerns my professional occupation, we have discussed how her rights have been violated in Berlin several times. Once, she told me how racist and transphobic her teacher was at the german class that Michelle had to attend since it was offered free of admission by the job center as part of her job-seeking files — because, in Germany, it is still no german – no proper job policy. 

Despite all her anger and frustrations, Michelle has always been fighting for her rights by making fun of her stories. Due to her refugee status, she cannot go to Turkey. When I first visited Istanbul after the COVID-19 pandemic, I asked Michelle what she had been missing in Berlin. She started giggling: “Love, bring me Turkish coffee cups, but please be fashionable; I trust you.” I did. I also brought a small bag full of gifts from her friend. 

I am not telling this short anecdote to contradict what Michelle said in “the 30 KG.” On the contrary, I want to highlight how the primary point of losing in forced migration is missing in the exhibition narrative: Travel bans and restricted mobilization of refugees and not only in international traveling but even in Germany. According to § 12a (AufenthG) – the Residence Act of Germany – people with certain humanitarian residence permits may be subject to the residence requirement, i.e., one must live in a specific city and/or in a particular apartment/community shelter and may not move. When one finds a job in another city or a federal state where they are not registered, they must inform immigration authorities and ask permission to move. Due to long waiting periods for an appointment at immigration authorities, refugees are subject to losing job offers. Restricted mobilization also has a high impact on gender-based violence cases. When there is no free space in women’s shelters in the registered city or the federal state, the one affected by violence cannot move to a safe space in another city or the federal state. In their book, AktenEinsicht: Geschichten von Frauen und Gewalt (in raw translation: File Insight: Stories of women and violence), lawyer Christina Clemm tells the violent story of a refugee woman who got stabbed by her husband in a refugee shelter, even though the woman had several times reported his abusive husband to the shelter authorities. 

Conclusively, when I tell the short anecdote above, I am precisely talking about feminist solidarity networks that we, migrant women from different geographies living in Berlin, have established since the early years of migration history in Germany. Today, as all these networks get more substantial and more comprehensive with international and intersectional feminism, thematizing migration and gender only from the experiences of one group of women from one particular country and conceptualizing the change in migration with “loss in kilos” ain’t sufficient to discuss the diversity in Berlin, which is also controversial the claim of Berlin Global, as it is the Berlin exhibition of the Humboldt Forum. Instead of dramatizing the migration and capturing it in dramatic personal stories, I believe it requires more political discourses to discuss equal rights for ALL in all areas of life, especially concerning the (hetero-)sexist and racist discrimination against migrant and refugee women, girls, and queer people.

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