ARTWORK MARIE KÖHLER

THE WHITE HERO COMPLEX

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8. MAI 1945. OUR HISTORY MATTERS

An experimental film collage and installation by Marie Köhler and Poutiaire Lionel Somé @2020-2021

8. Mai 1945. Our history matters!

More than one million African soldiers served in colonial armies during World War II. Their experience and shared history with the European nations that recruited them is a history between memory and forgetfulness. This installation invites audiences to explore this shared experience from various perspectives and ultimately gain their own impression.

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Exhibition views "8. Mai, our story matters!", Alte Feuerwache Cologne 2021


"...AFRICA´S DRAMA IS, THAT THE AFRICAN HAS NOT ENTERED HISTORY."

Nicolas Sarkozy


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CAN I MAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU? (1)


Installation, Multimedia: Photography, Photosculpture and Video. @2017-2019

CAN I MAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU? (1)

The photographic series „Can I make a photo with you? (1)“ consists of pictures taken during
my travels to Burkina Faso, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. My archive contains more than 500 photographs, which were shot in different contexts, when local African men asked me or other female traveling companions for a joint photo. The poses taken reflect a wide range of topics that are implicated by the situation and context, but at the same time they are only brief, long-lost moments captured in snapshots. 
The pictures tell a lot and different things, while many questions arise from them and also 

from the way they are created: What does the picture document? Which form of relationship, what kind of encounter is revealed in it? Is the visit a reason for the picture because it should be remembered? Is it about fun, emotional connections or something else? Have I and we been asked for common photos so often because we promise a better life and come from richer societies? Who evaluates who, what exchange takes place? How are we considered as guests by our hosts and how do we look at them? And what is shown by the attitudes and gestures, the interactions and the irritations? 


These questions are of course not answered by the pictures themselves, but only raised. They open up a whole field of image references around the encounter of white women and dark-skinned men. These references range, here only roughly mentioned, from propagandistic representations of the need to protect the white woman from sexual assault by black men portrayed as savages to the portrayals of white sex tourists in African countries, such as Ulrich Seidl documented cinematically, from the interracial porn and the associated sexist and racist clichés – and their supposed attractiveness – to the reports, 

fears and discussions surrounding the attacks of the New Year‘s Eve 2016/17 in Cologne. 

It is important to me that these issues are reflected associatively in the pictures, but the pictures have a much greater openness. Although clichés and patterns can also be found in them, which structure the encounter between the sexes and also between pale pink and light to dark brown people (to allude to Alain Badious‘s explanations that in reality the body does not exist white and black as skin colors also not yellow or red, see the last chapter of his book Black), at the same time the pictures are documents of fleeting encounters between individuals from different contexts, remain undefined and therefore bear witness to a liveliness that undermines the clichés and goes beyond. Based on this lack of definition the 

pictures also ask questions about the different perspectives of European and African people on each other and on the circumstances, in which they live and meet, and therefore, in the shown concrete interaction, they may contribute to dismantle misunderstandings, fears and reservations. 

It is also about opening up the possibility of critically examining one‘s own privileged position as a Western person, of recognizing and making the invoked phantasies and ideas visible, the mutual projections, the phantasms on both sides to let go – without ignoring them, because they are always associated, but point beyond them.

CAN I MAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU? (2)


Installation, Multimedia: Photography, Photosculpture and Video. @2017-2019

"SPENDING TIME WITH REFUGEES AROUND THE WORLD HAS BEEN THE GREATEST GIFT.
 IT HAS BEEN THE GREATEST LIFE LESSON I EVER COULD HAVE RECEIVED."
 

Angelina Jolie 2011


CAN I MAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU? (2)

The montage series „Can I make a photo with you? (2)“ is based on black and white photographs from the colonial period in Africa, taken from the archive of the German National Library in Frankfurt and Leipzig. In my work I use this historical self-portrayal of colonial rulers with their colonized African subjects together with pictures of my self-stagings and portraits of superstars such as Madonna, Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt, who are involved publicly with Africa today, and drawing media attention. 

The photo montages thus ask about the relationship of historical colonialism and the relations between Western and African states in the current situation, using the self-portrayals of helping celebrities and entrepreneurs in Africa, who in turn are a model for self-image, travel projects and engagement of the western middle classes in Africa. What is the relationship between the two types of western self-staging: at the time of colonialism and in the period of today’s continued economic exploitation? 

Does the engagement of Westerners in Africa show a sincere attempt to act against existing 

inequalities, no matter how weakly effective it actually might be, or is it more producing a 

hierarchical image that works non-violently, in which African-people become the exotic accessories for Westerners who are superior, but sensitive and feel morally committed to development aid? 

My work addresses the issue of colonialism today and the phenomenon of representation of aid and commitment as an image represented by celebrities, as well as by the exceptional activism of Westerners with an ordinary work biography on their vacation. Is this really about the other person, who you want to help, or is it about producing an image of yourself and „us“ as good people and heroes, selflessly sacrificing themselves in their free time? Isn’t it obscured, that whites who stage themselves as helping, or who actually help regarding single cases, can do so only because they come from societies whose prosperity is based on the exploitation of the former colonial relationship and continuing economic dependence? Shouldn’t that be at least an issue to discuss? Shouldn’t one try to escape the banality of the sentimentality, which, as pornography of misery, uses the same image of the weak and needy other in order to elevate oneself? And wouldn’t it be necessary to create a discourse, that does not show the observed misery as immutable, but as produced by certain structures and only to be changed through political influence on these structures? 

Of course, these questions apply as well to me and my attempt to make contact with people from African societies, to cooperate with them and to support them in their situations. 

My attempt, of course, takes place on a smaller scale and is not designed to represent
development aid in mass media, but it also enters the difficult field of interaction between unequal societies and partners, and it also ultimately results in an artistic work, even though it tries to produce non-hierarchical images. That‘s why it‘s important to have a certain distance via staging and a certain humour in the work: a comedy that is produced by assembling the various pictures, in which celebrities and I are also time travellers who may only have to look at the pictures from the colonial era once more in order to question their own present-day roles and to admit that in all well-intended gestures a final settlement and development of the formerly colonized societies is only possible, if one terminates their economic exploitation and is respecting them (eg. by returning looted cultural evidence and 

works), and their identity. 


In my work I try to process and reflect, that political engagement, coupled with humility, selfcriticism and a critical awareness of one‘s own privileges, is a precious resource, if it’s taken into account, that actual changes in the existing relationships – rather than self-representation as a morally flawless ideal – should be one’s aim.

Exhibition views "CAN I MAKE A PHOTO WITH YOU 1+2, Stadtmuseum Cologne 2019


CAN A CHICKEN CHANGE THE WORLD?

Installation, Multimedia: Photography, Photosculpture and Video. @2018-2019

CAN A CHICKEN  CHANGE THE WORLD?


Theme: In my artistic work, I deal with these colonial patterns and the still

existing, even subtle dominance relationships, and try to make them visible

in their complexity.

This artwork addresses the issue of colonialism today and the phenomenon of representation of aid and commitment as an image represented by celebrities, as well as by the exceptional activism of Westerners with an ordinary work biography on their vacation. Is this really about the other person, who you want to help, or is it about producing an image of yourself and „us“ as good people and heroes, selflessly sacrificing themselves in their free time?

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„I LOVE THE WORK I DO. IT´S A PRIVILEGE TO SERVE THE POOR...“

Bono 2017

UN Aircraft / Flieger in Kindu D.R. Congo (TALCE)


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Exhibition views "CAN A CHICKEN CHANGE THE WORLD?", Matjö Köln 2018