For centuries there has been Black cultural production from countries where German is spoken, and it has been as diverse and distinct as the various regions themselves. In this series, we highlight cross-generational artists who have strong ties to these prominent geo-cultural territories. This time, the activist collective AfroDiaspora 2.0// e.V. in Munich, who create artistic spaces, in which members of Black communities can find support and inspiration.
Contemporary And: Why did you found the collective AfroDiaspora 2.0// e.V.?
Sisilia Akello-Okello: Before founding AfroDiaspora 2.0//, I lived in a number of other European cities and got to know different Black communities and the work they were doing at the local level. This inspired me to create places for Black communities in my city. At first glance, Munich comes across as a very white city—but it isn’t. It was important for me to create “spaces of being” and make the existing networks and connections among Black communities in Munich more visible for us Black people.
Ruth Miezi: I wanted to establish a kind of drop-in center for Black women in Munich who are looking to make Black friends. I pictured the space as a place where people can heal wounds, and this need gave rise to various formats in the course of our work.
SAO: We wanted to create a platform that would facilitate the fulfilment of different needs, a place where we can do the things we always do in any case: exchange ideas, support each other, and ultimately empower ourselves. My parents had an Afroshop in Munich in the 1990s. The “Nairobi Store” was basically a kind of community hub and an important meeting place and drop-in center for Black people from Munich. The power that it generated was immense. We wanted to hook into this. Here, the society (or e.V.) is really just the collective’s institutional form, which is intelligible from the outside and affords us access to public monies. We’d already done the actual work prior to this.
C&: What is your understanding of empowerment in the context of your work with AfroDiaspora?
SAO: AfroDiaspora 2.0// is empowerment on all kinds of levels. Having the power to create spaces, to work with Black people, to produce art—these are all aspects of empowerment
RM: It’s about acknowledging one’s own value and creating an environment in which Black women can take back their power.
C&: AfroDiaspora has organized several events that focused on the artistic talents of Black women and children in Munich. What role does art play in your work?
SAO: Art plays an important role in the context of our work. We use it in our workshops and events as a tool of Black empowerment.
RM: In the last few years we have been working with poetry, photography, and music. This has stirred up deep-seated emotions and helped heal wounds.
SAO: In 2019, we worked with kids and teenagers on a book of short stories: “And when I grow up, I’m gonna move to New York.” The authors wrote and illustrated short stories about their own lives. The process, which went on for weeks, was very empowering for everyone involved, especially the kids. It was great for them to have the book in their hands at the end of it all and to be able to present it. But the creative process was just as important, if not more—the exchange of ideas between the kids and getting together on a regular basis in a Safer Space.
RM: Another aspect that makes art so important for us is sharing our work with other Black people. One of the reasons our events are so successful is because there are only very limited options in Munich for engaging with Black culture and art, while at the same time people are crying out for this.
SAO: It’s also a way of recording our work for upcoming generations. That’s very important.
C&: Your collective has been calling for a community center for Black people and Black-led local organizations, and there have been talks with local politicians. What is your vision for this community center?
SAO: It makes total sense to set up a community center as an institutionalized, physical hub for Black people in Munich. We will then develop and broker the center’s vision in situ. First up, it’s important that this space exists.
Meron Hagos: People going to bat for the community should be able to do this unimpeded. So, it’s important to have an actual fixed space in which the community work can regularly take place.
SAO: I think that enabling this space for citizens is a job that falls to the city. So, in 2020, we joined forces with a whole bunch of Black organizations, including the Social Justice Institut München, to form the AfroJustice Collective. We developed the “Action plan against anti-Black racism in Munich” and sent it to policy makers in the city administration. One central plank in the action plan was the call for a center for the Black community in Munich.
RM: The fact that we need to hold talks with politicians to achieve this says a lot about the role we have in local city politics. All we really want is our own space in the city we live in and maybe a little slice of home as a result. Luckily, other communities in Europe have these kinds of places already. That’s the direction we want to go in too.
SAO: And if our demands don’t bear fruit, we’ll look for other ways to establish our community center.
RM: Knowing that we’re going to get this done is also a form of empowerment.
Marny Garcia Mommertz is a curator and cultural producer who lives in Germany and the Netherlands. With her work, she supports Black artists in carrying out projects that contribute to the self-empowerment of Black communities.