Literary Landscapes in Creative Feel
In her monthly column in the Creative Feel magazine Indra Wussow writes about developments in the arts and shares other pickings with us.
Indra Wussow with a homage to her great grandmother and her beloved late maternal grandmother: "Stories have the power to liberate us and, beyound the idea of the slain animal, the fur became a symbol of survival. Silver and jewellery were sewn into the fur coat to survive the dark hours of an uncertain escape, to start again in a foreign environment." >> Read more
(...) One of the most original is the bookshop and art gallery in Haus Cajeth in the heart of Heidelberg’s famous old town. This baroque palace has long been a cultural lighthouse typical of the city’s prolific intellectual life. During the 1830s, the then owners of the palace, the Jewish entrepreneurial Zimmern family, hosted famous soirées in their home. Today, the bookshop is a treasure trove with an abundance of books. New discoveries compel visitors to spend some money, and the knowledgeable bookseller, Barbara Schulz, imparts so much about the cultural history of the city and the region. She was the life partner of Egon Hassbecker (1924 – 2013), the founder of the bookshop and owner of one of the most famous collections of ‘outsider art’. The bookshop and art gallery have been situated in Heidelberg since 1982. (...) It is a real asset for the city of Heidelberg to have this
pioneering place next to the famous Prinzhorn Collection,
a collection of artworks exclusively created by the mentally
ill. (...) >> Read more
Legend surrounds the German city of Heidelberg. The town, which is situated on the banks of the Neckar river, is simultaneously celebrated as the epitome of German Romanticism and as a science hub, home to several internationally renowned research facilities. (...). The artes liberales is the smallest bookshop I have ever come across, but probably the most well-curated one. Its founder and owner is the philosopher Clemens Bellut who opened this little treasure trove in 2013. (...) On one of the two outside chairs, I meet one of Heidelberg’s most renowned poets. Rainer René Müller is a local icon and his poetry is a means of coming to terms with the legacy of Nazi-times and the repression of its implications. (...) I realise that the biggest gift Clemens Bellut offers is that of a safe haven in the midst of this troubled world in which we can freely advance into the deep (un)known interior of ourselves to share and grow together. >> Read more
In the publication Jurmala, author Indra Wussow travelled down memory lane with her friend Ojars, capturing childhood memories of summers near Riga in Latvia. Being right here in the snow of Jurmala they might be able to find a new beginning that overcomes all the losses suffered by their families. An extract, translated from the German by Maren Bodenstein, follows.(Part 2)
(...) >> Read more
In the publication Jurmala, author Indra Wussow travelled down memory lane with her friend Ojars, capturing childhood memories of summers near Riga in Latvia. Being right here in the snow of Jurmala they might be able to find a new beginning that overcomes all the losses suffered by their families. An extract, translated from the German by Maren Bodenstein, follows.(Part 1)
(...) >> Read more
Aung Soung’s tiny body is emaciated, her furrowed face a map of her pain and the hard life she suffers. She is only 42 years old but looks 70. ‘Life is tough here if you are poor. So much energy is needed to merely survive,’ says her husband, who brings some food he bought in the street.
Aung is a patient in Yangon’s biggest hospital. The red and white, old, colonial brick building towers over the city centre and has been a hospital since its inauguration in 1889 by English colonisers. Once surely a modern clinic, this
building and its annexes have seen much better days.
Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world and there is no health insurance system. Money makes the world go round and when there is none, any illness can become a death threat. (...) >> Read more
This month I wanted to introduce the Burmese human rights lawyer Robert Sann Aung but considering the disastrous election results of the German general election, I decided differently.
Thirteen per cent of those who voted favoured the right wing party AfD (Alternative for Germany) and in some constituencies, especially in what was former East Germany, they achieved up to 28% of the votes. And while in talk shows and political debates, people are still trying to understand how this could happen, a party and its supporters are celebrating their success – a success that will change the country for the worse.
Ninety-four seats in the Bundestag – the German parliament – will be occupied by AfD politicians and many of them have no political experience. (...) >> Read more
Cambodia still struggles with its history. Even though its capital, Phnom Penh, has ostensibly become a modern city with its high rises, parks and fancy restaurants, the past still plays a dominant role in the lives of so many of its inhabitants.
Due to unresolved issues concerning ownership of properties in the city, investors and Cambodian international joint ventures have been able to seize properties and evict former occupants.
Remember that the Khmer Rouge evicted the entire city of Phnom Penh in 1975 and many of these ex-city dwellers did not survive slave labour and starved in the countryside or died in the killing fields. (...) >> Read more
Sarah Biggs won the 2015 Turbine Art Fair & Sylt Emerging Artist’s Residency Award (TASA) and spent some months in Germany. Her new exhibition, called Waiting for Rain, depicts our human universal anxiety when it comes to climate change and weather phenomena. The absence of rain, the increasing lack of water, is one of the major threats of our time and climate change is an uneasy fact that leads us to stumble and despair when we think about our future.
The drought we experienced in South Africa and its devastating effects on nature and people, is only the starting point for Biggs’ exploration of how transformation and change play their roles in our lives, our perception of nature and our ability to cope with it.
The alienation of humans from nature is a long-deplored fact and the juxtaposition of the landscape and the human beings whose hopes seem to have shattered is an integral part of our contemporary conception of the world we are living in. >> Read more
How does the transformation of a society really work? This is one of those incredibly intriguing but almost unanswerable questions. What makes the process successful and what hinders a true change? Some special people and their positive attitudes can make a difference. While I am once again staying in Yangon, I experience the power of stamina and open-mindedness through the minds, lives and works of artists.
It is a Sunday afternoon in one of the many parks in Yangon. (…) It is time for a major poetry reading, with ten poets reciting their works. A well-known band is performing too. (…) As I am waiting, I start a conversation with one of the older poets. He is very excited about the event. ‘Look, before the change, it was not possible to gather here and do an event like this. There would have been police, you had to be careful what to say and what to read and events like this were considered subversive and dangerous.’ (...)
>> Read more
(…) Crime, greed and politics seem to go hand-inhand in Panama, with leaders like the infamous dictator Manual Noriega, who ruled between 1983 and 1989, when he was removed from power by the United States during the invasion of Panama.
Ramón Fonseca is also a poet of note. A charismatic man, he is seen as putting himself above the law and humanity. Meeting the young poets and writers, it becomes clear that they are not only concerned about the arts – most of them are activists as well who want to create a fairer and more humane society that respects all its people and not only those with money or power.
These young poets and writers do not live in the glamorous city centre or the Casco Viejo. The old Spanish town has been gentrified and is today a place to go out, to dine, to drink, and to have fun. When I met with renowned poet Lucy Cristina Chau in her flat, it was a far cry from the charm of the city centre. (…) >> Read more
(...) One and a half hours from Chile’s capital city of Santiago, my journey comes to a stop in front of a boom gate in the middle of a huge forest. It looks as if it is taken directly out of one of Grimm’s fairy tales.
This is the entrance to the former Colonia Dignidad, now a hotel called Villa Baveria (the Baverian Village). I was curious to find out how such an evil place could become a destination for tourists to relax, enjoy the landscape, and savour some kind of German food and lifestyle.
Behind the boom gate are watchtowers, and barbed wire still surrounds the huge property at the foot of the mighty Andes mountains, telling the story of imprisonment. The inhabitants had no chance to escape the system. If they tried, they were caught and tortured with electroshock therapy and sedated with psychiatric drugs.
(...) Chile is still haunted by the demons of its Pinochet years and has been working on the delicate task of revisiting its history and leading a divided society toward a peaceful transformation. The Colonia Dignidad became an epitome of this difficult process.>> Read more
Peru is a country of extreme contrasts. Seventyseven per cent of its population live in its bigger cities; a quarter of Peru’s population of 30 million live in Lima alone. In this capital city, the contrasts are most obvious. Affluent neighbourhoods with fancy shops and restaurants and a rather European lifestyle define the lives of the rich and the upper middle class. The majority of Peruvians cannot afford such a life and its poor people live in the outskirts of the city in pueblos. (...)
The experience of a long period of terror and displacement of its communities, of its subsequent silence and the revisitation of past traumas in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, form important topics for writers, poets and artists of Peru to negotiate the social situation through their works. These important voices attempt to recollect collective memories and show how the individual pain is still a sad reality in a country whose way into a civil society has been long and winding. (...) >> Read more
Valparaíso in Chile is one of the country’s most important sea ports and has often been called ‘The Jewel of the Pacific’ by international sailors. (...)
Chilean poet Enrique Winter is one of the best examples of how Valparaíso still attracts writers and artists from the city of Santiago. ‘Valparaíso has the perfect distance to the country’s capital for me to isolate and concentrate on my creative process. At the same time, the artistic scene here is strong and whenever I step out of my isolation I bump into other poets, writers and artists.’ (...)
Neruda was maybe the grandest newcomer into a city
that is not short of great sons and daughters. Today his
house, which is now a museum, still towers over Valparaíso
and its bay as a reminder of the power of the arts, of the
power of an independent mind and of the very Chilean way
in which the arts have become intertwined with politics
and dissent. (...) >> Read more
Artists, writers, composers and curators from different countries are part of a new exchange programme that aims to negotiate our different approaches to reflect on our ‘burden of history’ through the means of art. (...)
It is the past with its isolation, and its extremely difficult space for the arts during the dictatorship, that is still such an overwhelming subject of many conversations and of the many artworks and events that took place while we were in Yangon.
Censorship was a major part of politics and aimed to silence artists and dissent. It was only abolished recently, in the beginning of 2016. Before that, every artist risked imprisonment, torture and the welfare of her or his family. While visiting the Monsoon Poetry Festival, we became witness to an amazingly diverse and vibrant literary scene. We met the Burmese poet laureate who spent a lot of his time in prison, but also young hip hop poets (...) >> Read more
Last October, Polish voters ousted a two-term liberalconservative government that was roundly despised for being arrogant, technocratic and obsessed with power and little else. Hoping for something better, voters handed a parliamentary majority to the main opposition party, the national conservative Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc or PiS) party. (...)
On a cultural level, this new government switched from promoting modernity, pluralism and tolerance to oldfashioned and reactionary ideas. (…) Many famous artists didn’t hesitate to pronounce themselves against this new government. Even if the PiS party controls the national media, there are private television channels, the leading newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza and, of course, not to forget the increasing role of social media. Famed Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski published a long sarcastic poem in Gazeta Wyborcza about the new government. >> Read more
Poland is the landscape of extreme historical drama,
the landscape of the major European upheavals in the 20th
century. Partition, a brief independence from 1918 to 1939
and occupations by the two major powers, Germany and the Soviet Union, mark Poland’s traumatic historical experience. This included the displacement of millions of Poles due to new borders, designed by the winning powers of World War II. As historian Timothy Snyder wrote, Poland became the ‘bloodlands’ of a Europe between Hitler and Stalin. The real post war period in Poland only ended after the collapse of the Soviet Union. >> Read more
Myanmar is a country best known for its fierce dictatorship and the heroic fight of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi to liberate her country.
After the dark years of oppression this multi-ethnic country, with its 52 million people, is in a transition to something new. Even though the parameters of this new dispensation are not yet clear, a more just and democratic state is still under threat.
Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League of Democracy won the last election, once said, ‘It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.’ >> Read more
John Waromi is a soft-spoken man. With his peaceful looks and dignity, one would hardly think of him as a freedom fighter. Yet, this sensitive and quiet man is a fierce advocate for the freedom of his homeland, Papua. The western part is occupied by Indonesia and is far from being the paradise we associate with the South Sea. Following a conversation with the 56-year-old poet, it is this very perception of paradise one would abandon and acknowledge as the superficial chimera it is. This chimera rather, reveals our obsession with exoticism and immature concept of faraway places. >> Read more
The times we are living in are rough and the ongoing refugee crisis shows us that history tends to repeat itself again and again. War and destruction, followed be rebuilding and peacekeeping, followed by war and destruction again. In a plethora of literature about Namibia and its colonial history, one book and film project stands out for its new approach to understanding how war and destruction did not only relate to the crimes of colonialism but also had an ongoing effect in history. Namibia gained full independence from South Africa in 1994 and since then the former German colony has moved back into the vision of modern-day Germany again – not only as a destination for tourists but also as a place closely related to the ugly aspects of German history and a place where descendants of the former colonialists still live. >> Read more
This month I would like to talk a little bit about the reception of the African continent in the German-speaking world through the lens of its literatures. This is a vast topic and can only be superficially touched here but might be the introduction of a more specific scrutiny into different countries and writers within the next months. >> Read more
Chile is a land of extraordinary poetic heritage. In the 20th century both Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral were awarded the Nobel Prizes for their poetry, while others like Vicente Huidobro, Pablo de Rokha and Nicanor Parra had powerful, late post-modernist influences across the Spanish- and Englishspeaking worlds. As it enters the new century, Chile is experiencing yet another poetic revolution, although this time it is occurring under dramatically different circumstances. With the publication of Epu mari ülkantufe ta fachantü (‘Twenty Contemporary Mapuche Poets’) in 2003, Mapuche poetry was finally and firmly established as a vital component of Chilean literature. >> Read more
Darkness surrounds us in the Indonesian Pavilion when a small man enters the stage. Humbleness surrounds him, a quietness that betrays his presence on stage. Afrizal Malna is one of the most important Indonesian poets and one of many guests invited to present Indonesia as the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year. Malna’s journey to poetry was an unlikely one and his struggle as a poet is also a struggle to find his roots, his identity and – his mother tongue. >> Read more
Literary Landscapes. By Indra Wussow.
Of the artists that flocked to the island over the centuries, one of the most famous was the expressionist Emil Nolde, who built his home on the mainland not far from the island. (…) There was a time when all the stars of the German cultural community were summer visitors on Sylt. (…) When the Sylt Foundation was founded in 2000, the idea of the artist island was long gone and Sylt’s reputation for the arts was shattered. So in 2000, when the first artists came to live and work on the island, it was the continuation of a historically close and fruitful relationship between the arts and the island. (…)Most of the works are only loosely connected with the island of Sylt, if at all; the guests are free to choose their own themes. >> Read more
Literary Landscapes. By Indra Wussow.
Literature can come around in so many different
forms and one project I have found completely convincing
and worth supporting is that of the German artist group
REMOTEWORDS from Cologne.
REMOTEWORDS is a long-term artistic project
initiated by the German artists Achim Mohné and Uta
Kopp. Referencing art, literature, design and navigation
technology, REMOTEWORDS installs messages on roofs
of cultural institutions. Applied in capital letters, the
messages are not directly visible on location but are best
viewed from outer space via satellite photography.
They are spread worldwide via virtual globes on Google
Earth and Bing Maps. (...) >> Read more
Literary Landscapes. By Indra Wussow.
Last month, the small German city of Bayreuth
saw the first conference of the ALA, (the African
Literature Association) on European ground. (...) One of its highlights was surely Jim Chuchu’s film Stories
of our lives, a mix of journalistic chronicle, political protest
and a gorgeous visual poem. This important film is an
anthology of five mini-dramas with LGBT themes set in the
homophobic Kenya of today.
Kenya’s most important writer, Binyawanga Wainaina,
who recently came out, later talks with the still shocked
audience about how important filmmakers and writers are in
the fight for tolerance and change. >> Read more
Literary Landscapes: University of Bayreuth, Germany. By Indra Wussow.
"This provincial university would not be of any major
global interest if its faculty of African studies were not
among the top institutions of its kind in the world. (...) I was travelling to Bayreuth this June to attend the
annual conference of the ALA (the African Literature
Association) to meet literary scholars, cultural scientists,
linguists and writers from all over the world to discuss the
state of African literature and its future. This conference is
held in Europe for the first time this year and will travel to
Franschhoek in 2016." >> Read more
Literary Landscapes: Johannesburg. By Indra Wussow.
"(...) Coming to South Africa, I have witnessed how a society in transition is working on shedding its colonial skin on its way to democracy and freedom and to address the crimes and traumas of the past.
The task to liberate all of its people out of the dark ages of colonialism and apartheid that still resonates with all South Africans – and this is my point to the born-frees too – to heal the wounds of the past, means that perpetrators and victims have to negotiate a present and future that does acknowledge the sufferings and wrongdoings of the past. (...)" >> Read more
Literary Landscapes: Cambodia. By Indra Wussow.
"(...) It is the arts that play an important role in overcoming
the silence and confronting the Cambodians with what is
such an unwelcome part of their collective memory.
Rithy Panh is Cambodia’s most famous filmmaker, born
in Phnom Penh in 1964. In his latest film The Missing Picture (2013), he recounts his own and his family’s trauma during the Khmer Rouge time. (...)
Anida Yoeu Ali, who recently won the Sovereign Art Prize,
will be the guest of the Sylt Foundation in January 2016 and will bring The Buddhist Bug to Johannesburg. (...)" >> Read the article
Literary Landscapes: Vietnam. By Indra Wussow.
"(...) The Vietnamese Writers’ Association invited more than 250 writers, poets, translators, editors, publishers and other
activists to Hanoi to attend a mammoth conference on literature and its terms and topics. The 2nd Asian and South Pacific Writers’ Conference in Hanoi engaged with literature in a way reminiscent of the times of the Soviet Union, with literature as a weapon of class struggle, serving the purpose of those in power. This socialist realism contrasts with those poets and writers who understand the role of literature in another way – and were fortunately part of the festival, too. (...)" >> Read the article
Literary Landscapes. By Indra Wussow.
"(...) Literature opens up hidden spaces we tend to neglect, opens up exotic worlds that are sometimes faraway places and sometimes an integral part of our inner selves. There is something deeply comforting in reading, writing, translating and communicating through the means of literature. To understand that somehow there is a universal conditio humana and finding analogies in different texts and cultural references can open horizons, grow your perceptions about your own and the world around you and bring us closer to each other. Even in the most exotic text is an essence that relates to all of us. (...)" >> Read the article