Savvy Contemporary, Berlin, Germany
08 Aug 2014 - 23 Aug 2014


Brigitta Kuster: Still from the video 'Erase them! - The image as it is falling apart into looks (2013)'

Friday, 8th August at 10 am, the first panel of eight Roundtables will investigate the interrelation of asylum politics and anxiety at Savvy Contemporary. “But the sea kept turning blank pages looking for history – On the State of Refugeeness” is a project by “To Whom It May Concern”* & Anna Jäger.


8th August 2014: 10am – 1pm

“Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann”? – On the Politics of Fear, Psychopathology and the Mobility of Bodies

Panellists: Damani J. Partridge, Eben Louw, Natalie Ofori, Bwansi Patras

“Niemand!” (nobody!) is what children in Germany shout as loud as they can when playing a popular game that starts off with the question “Who is scared of the black man?”, before they run off and try to get to the other side without being touched by the child who plays the black man.

This game is just one of many hints one may quote to pinpoint the historical rootedness of a fear that accompanies debates around asylum seekers as well as immigrants in Germany. This panel seeks to contextualize the anxieties that the issue of asylum seekers evoke and the specific historical and sociopolitical background of those fears. While most public discourse focusses on the refugees, their reasons to escape and their behaviour, very little is said about the way their image is used to serve a variety of political agendas (including left and right wing politics) and how their depiction systematically (and often unconsciously) produces and perpetuates a fear that has little to do with the individuals who seek asylum themselves.

The panel will investigate the interrelation of asylum politics and anxiety, the way that the affective politics of fear enable and restrict movement, how this fear might become a “technology” of the refugee’s dehumanization (Ahmed, 2004) and the way it is related to particular bodies and impends their mobility.


8th of August 2014: 14.00 – 17.00

The right to reside with rights: On the nation state, citizenship, and ‘cosmopolitics’

Panelists: Regina Römhild, Akinbode Akinbiyi, Damani J. Partridge, Brigitta Kuster

In her seminal 1949 essay The Rights of Man: What are they? (Es gibt ein einziges Menschenrecht) Hannah Arendt hit the nail on the head when she made the case for a right superior to what is conventionally known as human rights, i.e. the right to have rights: ‘There is only one single human right’, as other rights ‘change according to historical and other circumstances, there does exist one right which does not spring ‘from within the nation’ and which needs more than national guarantees.’4 In this attempt to re-understand, re-formulate, re-configure what could be a ‘human right’ enjoyable by all, independent of their religion, race or national affiliation per se, but strictly just by the mere fact of being human, Arendt situates these rights within communities. Implying that basic rights like freedom of speech, the right to own property, of life, liberty, movement etc can only be imagined if one has the access to a community. The right to have rights is thus a call for communities, nations etc to grant access to their communities/ citizenship to those, who for what ever reason, have lost their own communities, i.e. a right of asylum. Only then can one start talking of human rights.

The French philosopher Etienne Balibar drills the screw even deeper by coining the twist the “right to reside with rights”. Balibar points out that “”right to reside with rights” contains a strong tension (…) between two “polar opposite” aspects, which the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights already expressed when they spoke of the right to acquire a nationality (or not to remain “apatrid”) and the right to change one’s nationality.”5 As well as “freedom of circulation and right of residency (or settlement) – which indeed is a ‘principle,’ like the freedom of opinion or expression, or the freedom of enterprise are ‘principles’ – that is, call for institutionalization, therefore limitations, conditions, and regulations, provided these regulations do not, in fact, reduce them to nothing.”

In this session we will deliberate on the notions of human rights, on the concept of the nation-state today, on the limits of citizenship. An effort will be made to scrutinize the concepts of cosmopolitanism and cosmopolitics. As Balibar put it “the issue of cosmopolitics today is no longer one of an ideal alternative with respect to the real nation-state and its Machtpolitik, but becomes increasingly one of organization of already existing transnational processes, and the subjection of their current violence to an expanded and renewed notion of the rule of law.”




22nd August 2014: 10.00 – 12.00
On Welfare, Histories of Entanglement and the Ethical Dilemmas of Humanitarianism


22nd August 2014: 13.00 – 15.00
D/Remonstrare – On the right to empathize 


22nd August 2014: 15.30 – 17.30
Workshop I – Legal Questions


23rd August 2014: 10.00 – 12.00
Space politics and Spatial Justice: appropriating and constructing spaces


23rd August 2014: 13.00 – 15.00
Crafting Worlds. Autoprogettazione and Making Things Happen


23rd August 2014: 15.30 – 17.30
Workshop II – Thinking With Our Hands. (Practical design/ construction session)


but the sea kept turning blank pages looking for history
– On the State of Refugeeness –

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, about 18,000 people have made the journey over the Mediterranean Sea since the beginning of 2014 and it is estimated that some 20,000 people perished upon their attempt to get into Lampedusa.

These ‘facts’ and figures have become ‘normalcy’ and information and discourses with regards to the refugee situation, as championed by the media, the academia, lawyers, politicians and refugees themselves are more often than not caught up in stereotypical frames or are blocked in boxes accessible only to individuals of one of the aforementioned groups.

The project but the sea kept turning blank pages looking for history,whose title is a paraphrase of a line in Derek Walcott’s “The Sea is History”, will provide a platform for plenary discussions, screenings, lectures, workshops and performances that reflect on the status quo and future, on the production of knowledge, on the creation and cultivation of imagery, on the role of the arts in such times of crisis, on the sociological implications, and on the history we are making regarding ‘refugeeness’.

While public discourse and political agendas around the issue of refugees tend to concentrate on them as the loci of problems and solutions surrounding the topic, the fears and problematization of the status of “refugeeness” often have less to do with asylum seekers themselves, but with deeply rooted anxieties about “others” and migration in the German and European context in general but the sea kept turning blank pages looking for history aims to take a self-reflexive position by unravelling the complexities of anxieties/ fears of both state and public towards refugees in a broader historical and socio-political context. It will thus offer a transdisciplinary platform within the context of an art space, where the balancing act between performing action and articulating speech, where public visibility and natural invisibility, as well as citizenship will be exercised. SAVVY Contemporary will bring together artists, art theorists, architects, philosophers, sociologists, lawyers, economists, politicians and people called refugees at SAVVY Contemporary Berlin to deliberate together, and exchange on the state of ‘refugeeship’.


1 See: Fanon, F. “The Negro and Psychopathology”, in: Black Skin, White Masks. 1952

* To Whom It May Concern is the SAVVY curatorial collective, which consists of Dr. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, Dr. Elena Agudio and Saskia Köbschall. This project was co-curated by Anna Jäger.




8th, 22nd & 23rd August 2014

A project by “To Whom It May Concern”* & Anna Jäger

SAVVY Contemporary I Richardstr. 20 I 12043 Berlin-Neukölln

Panellist list will be updated regularly. For more information visit:



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