Against the Colonial Amnesia
The cultural landscape must become discrimination-free, sustainable, more diverse – in short: it needs bringing up to date, Melmun Bajarchuu is certain of that. As part of the “Initiative for Solidarity in Theatre” she aspires to make theatre more accessible and fairer.
By Ceyda Nurtsch and Melmun Bajarchuu
In a place where art meets theory and politics, Melmun Bajarchuu brings her questions to the table: How can we ensure equality in the theatre? How can we align thinking in debates about sexism and racism, popularised by the hashtags #metoo and #BlackLivesMatter, by campaigning for accessibility and removal of barriers from an anti-ableist and anti-classist perspective, and unite to achieve better theatre? What does all this have to do with a typically capitalist, achievement-oriented culture sector? These are some of the issues faced by the dramaturge and curator in her culture policy work in the committee for accessibility and transformation at the Bundesverband Freie Darstellende Künste (Federal Association of Performing Arts; BFDK), in the Initiative für Solidarität am Theater (Initiative for Solidarity in Theatre; ISaT), in the producer network produktionsbande – netzwerk performing arts producers, in her capacity as jury member in Hamburg and Berlin, and as a peer advisor in the field of antidiscrimination in the Performing Arts Programme Berlin.
The Problem Is the Colonial Heritage
“Fortunately theatre in Germany is funded by taxpayers and has a responsibility to educate. The remit is to create a civil society that’s familiar with political contexts and prepared to get involved,” says Bajarchuu, who studied philosophy, sociology and politics in Hamburg. “Theatre in its current form – by this I’m referring to extremely feudal structures that we’ve actually eliminated from our society – simply cannot cope with this responsibility.”
To change this, she co-founded ISaT, the “Initiative for Solidarity in Theatre”, along with fellow campaigners in 2017. The organisation is set up as a cross-sectoral alliance that focuses on existing inequality issues and hierarchical power structures in theatre and aims to develop strategies to counter them. The thing is, for the ISaT campaigners these separate debates about topics such as racism and sexism are only fragmentary approaches to the actual problem: the colonial legacy of the dominant society. It is still fully apparent in education, the workplace and cultural curation – plus the fact that it is people in privileged positions deciding who gets involved in the art process and how, what topics are addressed, and who is targeted by the finished product.
Recognising Complex Biographies
To highlight the perspectives and knowledge production of marginalised individuals, Bajarchuu collaborated with other postmigrant and Jewish culture practitioners to produce the podcast Lose Fäden (Loose Threads). In this podcast, contemporary witnesses, academics and activists talk about their resistance to the normalisation of structural racism and racist violence since the fall of the Berlin Wall. In her curatorial practice she is interested in creating spaces and formats for artistic cooperation between minoritised positions, as well as conducting research on decolonisation practices within the culture sector – currently in the context of “UNSER*Deutsch – Unlearning Mehrheitsgesellschaft”, a research project financed by the visual arts fund.
To achieve a new perspective within the culture scene, Bajarchuu demands that marginalised people should not be reduced to singular identity markers like “Black”, “with experience of displacement”, “disabled” or “experiencing class discrimination”, but instead their complex biographies should be recognised. They are more than what a supposedly majority society projects onto them. Language used in tender documents and application processes should be more inclusive and juries should be more diverse. One reason for this is to make the culture policy fairer. And another, says Bajarchuu, is that it allows the plurality of society to be expressed in a theatre and culture setting as well.