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Sainte Sebastienne,” 1992. (Credit: Louise Bourgeois)

I came to Berlin as a person with a complicated love relationship with cities. New York City often grips my heart so close it hurts. The relationship between the city and the survivor of sexual violence–or the survivor of any kind of violence or trauma–is a very particular one. Many stories and cultural narratives refer to the trope of “female intuition,” proposing that women have advanced capabilities to perceive underlying dynamics, know when and how to give love and care, and can even predict the future. Though I do believe that we occupy spiritually evolved forms, I don’t think this “higher plane” is biological. The ability to pick up on and mentally calibrate the unspoken truths that shape our lives lies in our conditioning and lived experiences with terror, with betrayal, with being hurt and punished and subdued. We are required to be alert and sensitive to our environments because we know that our physical and spiritual agency is at stake–our identities, our bodies. This is second and firsthand–learning from the experiences of other women; learning from living, through scar and callous. On the most basic level, hearing our parents tell us to be careful of strangers when we are young and traveling alone on the subway or tram for the first time. Seeing the violence done to our forms dragged as entertainment or exposé across pages of books and television screens. There is nothing natural or innate about it. Feeling the eyes the voices the eyes. The acquisition of psychic capabilities is a laborious process that involves more weight than is typically attached to “exceptional” qualities. It is a thorny gift: one that reminds me both of my own resilience and my experience of trauma.

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Kerry James Marshall speaking at the American Academy in Berlin. (Credit: Photos by Annette Hornischer | Courtesy the American Academy in Berlin)

Our class, Curatorial Practice: Past and Present, filed into the American Academy — a mansion buried deep in the affluent Berlin neighborhood of Wannsee — on a beautiful sunny day. Any sense of intimidation we could have felt at the very formal invitation we received to the American Academy’s event, “The End Of Criticality”, a master class with Kerry James Marshall, quickly melted away once he began his talk. A sweet, friendly man whose warm laugh immediately puts one at ease, Marshall is one of the most important and influential painters today. Our curatorial practice class was joined by art students from the Universität der Künste and Freie Universität. During his talk, Marshall spoke with us about everything ranging from ways of approaching art institutions built on a foundation of exclusion and exploitation to how his own love of the image began.

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► Monday: Between Spaces – Art, Urbanism & Public Space

Space only ever exists with a context, charged with socio-political and socio-economic interests, shaped by power structures and defined by boundaries. The 15 artists featured in this exhibition explore issues in urban life from 1970s New York to 1980s East Berlin through the mediums of photography, sculpture, drawing and painting.

  • When: 10:00 – 18:00
  • Where: ZKR – Alt-Biesdorf 55, 12683
  • Admission: 5,50€
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The Wheel (Credit: Anna Zakelj)

When I was little, I didn’t like biking. I had a long string of second hand bikes, none of which ever seemed to work quite right — a complaint that had some merit but also one I used as an excuse to explain my otherwise irrational dislike of the activity. When I left home for boarding school at age 13, I took my bike with me and rode it exactly once a year. I soon stopped owning bikes and didn’t ride one for four or five years. After highschool, I took a gap year living and working in the outskirts of Portland, OR, where the buses run only twice an hour but the city’s  cycling culture persists. It took my 9am job, the infrequent public transportation, and an old man named Lou to get me on a bike again.  Lou gave me his old bike, helped me replace the numerous punctured tires, and switched out the yarn-secured milk crate on the back with real saddle baskets. I soon began biking almost everywhere I went. The change came from the necessity of getting to work on time, but biking quickly became integral to my happiness as well, allowing me to both mentally and physically distance myself from the stress of work. The movement had become a stabilizing habit, and, despite the physical exertion involved, it was easier, somehow, than sitting on a bus.

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► Monday: Black German Cinema: “Sankofa – Return and get it”

Jump right back into Berlin’s cultural scene by attending the film series In-between Performative Films, which focuses on artists trying to break away from patriarchal and national production contexts. This month’s movie premier follows artists and curators from Ghana. It raises various questions: Does the artist imitate art, or is it the art that reflects the artist? How can Ghanaian artists convey their history and heritage in art that is distanced from home? There will be a discussion with the director Maman Salissou Oumarou after the screening.

  • When: 20:00
  • Where: Naunynstr. 27, 10997
  • Admission: 3
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► Monday: Gritty Glamour – a Queer Intervention 

This performance not only teleports the audience to Berlin’s nightlife and queer scene, but it also sheds light on the personal stories of queer and drag artists, who constantly negotiate their identity and explore their boundaries. The artists represent a wide range of Berlin’s nightlife figures, from electro queens to punk feminists and drag chanson. They share their perspectives on and understanding of community, sex, love, diaspora, family and their personal as well as stage identity. Moreover, the performance raises the issue of racism in the queer scene against the invisibility of queer post-migrant bodies.

  • When: 20:00
  • Where: Naunynstr. 27, 10997
  • Admission: 8
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► Monday: Populism, Politics & Propaganda 

This debate and panel talk questions the role of media and press in today’s rise of right-wing populism. On the one hand, the trend of “fake news” or alternative facts undermines the reliability of the media, especially in Trump’s America. On the other hand, journalists who want to uncover the truth face public threats and even arrests, like those in Turkey. In the face of all those challenges, who can uncover the truth? Who checks the facts?

  • When: 20:00 – 22:00
  • Where: Bar Jeder Vernunft – Schaperstr. 24, 10719
  • Admission: free
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Two girls nap on a sleeper train in Railway Sleepers Credit: World Film Festival of Bangkok

Two girls nap on a sleeper train in Railway Sleepers. (Credit: World Film Festival of Bangkok)

I only went to see two films at the Berlinale International film festival, and I only stayed awake for one and a half of them. Despite the negative review my nap seems to suggest, the effort with which I attempted to keep my eyes open tells a different story. Both films, Centaur and Railway Sleepers, were wonderful — beautifully shot with subtle but imaginative narratives. The festival lived up to my expectations twofold, and my expectations were far from low.

Founded in West Berlin in 1951, the Berlinale was originally conceived by an American film officer of the US Army as a propaganda tool during the Cold War.  It was meant to be a showcase of the so-called “free world.” Hitchcock’s Rebecca was the very first film to be shown, and, for the first years, the festival was dominated by American and British works. It wasn’t until 1955 that a German film won the top prize. Originally, East Berliners were also able to see films for lower prices at specific screenings. These screenings ended in 1961, but the propaganda continued as the wall went up, with 500 movie posters hung to be visible to East Berliners. The festival grew from there, eventually shedding the US influence. Now it is one of the most highly attended and well-reputed international film festivals in the world, as well as one of the most influential. After two films watched and 10 euros spent, I understand why.

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