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Thomas Ravens
From the Space Is The Place exhibition, Künstlerhaus Bethanienartwork Thomas Ravens

An Afrofuturism exhibition is being criticised for excluding black artists

The Berlin art show bizarrely links the Afrofuturist movement to Elon Musk, and features 21 white artists and one artist of colour

The art world is not best known for inclusiveness, but a new exhibition opening in Berlin this week has dipped to new levels. A show about Afrofuturism – a term to describe the genre of artists, musicians and thinkers of the African diaspora who draw on themes of technology, space and utopia to reimagine black life for the future – features, wait for it... no black artists.

The exhibition, which opens on August 1 at The Künstlerhaus Bethanien art centre, takes its name – Space Is The Place – from a song by the famous black jazz composer Sun Rawho has influenced the likes of Solange and Kelsey Lu. It claims to celebrate Afrofuturism alongside, bizarrely, the work of Elon Musk.

Shockingly, of the 22 artists in the group show, only one is a person of colour – the male Singaporean conceptual artist Song-Ming Ang. 18 of the other artists are white men, and three are white women. Of the accompanying performance program, only one performer, the Detroit DJ Juan Atkins, is a person of colour. 

A collective called Soap Du Jour, made up of activists, artists and curators, has written an open letter to the show's curator Christoph Tannert, rightly criticising his “unwavering commitment to white muskulinity!” and asking why it is even relevant to curate a show that melds Afrofuturism with anything to do with “South African megalomaniac Elon Musk”.

Afrofuturism is about the emancipation of people of colour, while Elon Musk leads a new kind of colonialism, the group points out. “So, you’re saying that this exhibition aligns itself with the vision of a South African billionaire who wishes to colonise as much territory as possible for the sake of immense personal and corporate enrichment? Don’t we know that plot from somewhere? Haven’t we seen that movie before?” they ask.

Continuing, the letter reads: “It would appear that not a single black artist could be meaningfully accommodated within your group show of 22 artists. Indeed, we must be fair in acknowledging that almost completely avoiding artists who happen to identify as anything other than white men, takes deep and focused effort in the increasingly diverse ecosystem that is contemporary Berlin.”

Tannert replied to artnet News, giving a statement that pointed out how, every year, more than half of the artists shown at Künstlerhaus Bethanien are women, some of whom are women of colour, adding that: “Curatorial freedom is as valuable as artistic freedom.”

But should curatorial freedom allow a white curator to appropriate and whitewash a genre created by artists of colour?

The gallery followed with a Facebook statement acknowledging that the “artist list is not diverse and that the wording of the press release required more nuance” and claiming that they "regret that this particular exhibition is not reflective of (our) diverse and international outlook and take the criticism very seriously”.

Soap Du Jour had some suggestions for how they could do better next time: “If you’re serious about imagining ‘advanced utopias,’ dear Christoph Tannert, may we suggest that you start by reflecting on the realities of the planet that we currently inhabit? We invite you to consider broadening your earthly horizons before expanding your vision to the universe at large.”