Five Continents – five short interviews on the occasion of Art Week

Group tour for Berlin Art Week at the invitation of the Federal Foreign Office
© Johannes Ebert

Artists, curators, museum directors and gallerists from all five continents spent a week taking a look around Berlin during Art Week. Five short interviews about differences in the art scene, what inspires them and their discussion partners in Berlin most and what amazed them

  • Sameera Raja, gallerist from Karachi, Pakistan © Johannes Ebert

    Sameera Raja, gallerist from Karachi, Pakistan

    Being a gallerist in Pakistan or in Berlin – what’s the difference?

    I think it is harder to run a gallery in Pakistan because it is a completely new market. Here in Germany, people have links with art through a tradition that goes back centuries. They have a lot of experience and knowledge. In Pakistan, we have to educate people about art first, so it's harder, but also more exciting.

    What are your perceptions about the art scene in Berlin?

    Very lively, enthusiastic and young. It is ahead of its time, but at the same time there is a great museum scene with old art, such as on Museum Island. That is a wonderful mixture.

    What ideas are you taking home with you?

    In Pakistan, the significance of art has not yet been recognised. Here in Berlin, as everywhere in Germany, there are many funding programmes for artists and exhibition venues that are supported with public money. I wish there were something like that in Pakistan too. I would love to go to the government and say: ‘Do something like that, give something back!’ Art provides a wonderful means for understanding a country’s culture. In contrast with the image often conveyed by international media, art reveals what makes people tick, what they think, who they are.

  • Miki Saito, independent curator and artist from Tokyo, Japan © Johannes Ebert

    Miki Saito, independent curator and artist from Tokyo, Japan

    You seem amazed following your visits to ateliers and galleries visits. Why?

    What really surprises me is that artists here get up and seriously say: Oh no, we don’t exhibit in order to sell something! In Japan, it is all just about selling. An art dealer might come along and demand that you as an artist modify your work for promotional reasons. And then you have to weigh up whether you do that. It seems to me that in Berlin artists are much truer to their art.

    Did this experience change you?

    I will definitely take these high artistic standards home with me and engage in a discussion with other artists about what we can change. We need alternative venues so as to be able to experiment more freely. Artists here push back their limits more and more, whereas in Japan the scope for that is too limited.

    Can you say anything in German now?

    (Laughs) “Yes, Dankeschön (thank you very much) and Ampelmann (traffic light man). I liked the word “Ampelmann” even before I knew what it meant. I find it very inspiring.”

  • Thomas Köhler, Director of the Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art, Germany © Johannes Ebert

    Thomas Köhler, Director of the Berlinische Galerie Museum of Modern Art, Germany

    You have just shown your museum to people from 20 countries and were engaged in discussion with them - how was it?

    That kind of experience is absolutely fantastic and interesting not only for the guests, but also for me. You don’t just give, you also get something back and realise that these colleagues have similar problems and questions. And sometimes that they have already found solutions different to your own. That helps.

    What message do you have for your colleagues?

    A museum is a communication platform and should lead to dialogue or, I believe, even conflict. It is important for me that whenever people encounter art, that meeting should be as productive and inspiring as possible. And that is what I try to get across through my museum and through dialogue.

    Do you dream of returning the visit?

    I have been inspired to go and meet colleagues where they are too. And to get to know the conditions under which they work. An exchange like this one with the Visitors Programme is a really intensive course. As far as I am concerned, that kind of exchange should take place more often. To be honest, for German museum colleagues too.

  • William Miko, curator and lecturer at the Zambian Open University School of Fine Arts, Zambia © Johannes Ebert

    William Miko, curator and lecturer at the Zambian Open University School of Fine Arts, Zambia

    Was there one highlight for you among all the things that you have seen this week?

    Berlin was an eye-opener for me, not only because of the many visits to galleries and discussions with artists, curators and museum people. One thing that was outstanding was the exchange among the participants in the group which unites so many nationalities, identities and different traditions. I feel as if I had not only visited Berlin this week, but the whole world.

    What happens now?

    I think this was just the beginning. Through the Visitors Programme, I have many new contacts and am already dreaming of networking some Zambian artists with German artists. Here, there is an established art scene and a long academic tradition. In Zambia, the art scene is still in its infancy – it is exciting to bring the two together.

  • Jaroslav Varga, Curator of the MeetFactory in Prague, Czech Republic © Johannes Ebert

    Jaroslav Varga, Curator of the MeetFactory in Prague, Czech Republic

    You said that as a curator you have been interested in Andreas Greiner for some time now. You have just visited the artist in his atelier. Do you understand his works better now?

    It really is completely different to meet the artist himself instead of only seeing his art in a gallery. The funny thing is that I met other artists I know in his studio community with whom he is friends, which I did not know. I think that for a curator, nothing is more valuable than talking to the artist himself about his work and seeing for oneself how and where it is made.

    Does the art scene here remind you of the art scene in Prague?

    Berlin’s art scene has its own very distinctive character, and is very different from the rest of Germany as well. It is very dense and overheated, perhaps even too overheated. In Prague, things are not quite as exciting. But many Prague artists have a connection with Berlin.

    Is there a genuine exchange?

    Let’s put it like this: I think it’s a two-way dialogue. But the dialogue from Berlin to Prague is stronger, because Berlin is simply bigger and more important. But in contrast with London or elsewhere, artists here are really interested in Eastern European issues and artists. We share a common history and have a similar geopolitical situation. That is why we attract one another.