New Worlds

In the 1970s, Latin America, with the emergence of socialist governments, assumed a special place in the hearts of left-wing Europeans. Up to the 1990s, a number of working groups at the nGbK addressed the reformist movements in Mexico, Cuba, Chile and Nicaragua. In the publication marking the art society’s 21st anniversary, Olav Münzberg attributed the emphasis on Latin American art to the solidarity of the student movement with the socialist governments. The Vietnam War in particular, according to Münzberg, triggered young left-wingers’ interest in the global South. “Observation from outside was understood as a constructive element of objectivity, as the experience that only a combination of self-image and image of the stranger, self-perception and perception of others could promote objectivity.”1
A striking number of projects addressed Mexico. In 1974, a historical exhibition was held on Kunst der mexikanischen Revolution, which could lay claim to being the first Europe-wide exhibition that made the political graphics and murals of Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siquieros or José Clemente Orozco a topic of contemporary history and art history.

An important development for the European solidarity movement was the election in 1970 of Salvador Allende as Chilean President. Hopes for different, socialist policies and economic approaches fed into the student movement’s desire for a third way, an alternative to East Germany and the Soviet Union. But the dream of a socialist democracy was brought to an abrupt end by Augusto Pinochet’s coup on 11 September 1973. His dictatorial regime ushered in an era of privatisation and “cultural barbarity”2, in which countless people were subjected to torture and persecution. Dissident artists were murdered, books burned, broadcasters closed down and archives destroyed. Numerous “Chile Committees”3 founded in West Germany after the coup had pledged to disseminate information about these societal and political developments and remind people of the socialist Utopia. Between 1979 and 1981, Alfredo Jaar realised the project Studies on Happiness in the Chilean capital Lima, where he put up large-scale billboards in public places. Later, he recalled: “Censorship, and even worse than that, self-censorship, had just reached their zenith, because people were afraid […] I wanted to play with that: what could you get away with saying, how far could you go?”4 In 2012, Jaar organised an exhibition showing a video documentation of the long-term project in the nGbK.
This network of solidarity also made possible the exhibition 100 Chilenische Plakate aus der Zeit der Regierung Allende 1970–1973 in 1976, realised by the Vereinigung zur Förderung der demokratischen Kultur Chiles (Association for the Promotion of Chile’s Democratic Culture). The exhibition took 100 billboards as examples with which to explain the land, education and social reforms proposed by the left-wing alliance Unidad Popular.

In the course of this examination of reformist movements, feminist approaches also came into focus, expressed especially in the exhibitions Chilenas (1983), 35 Künstlerinnen aus Mexiko (1981) and Mexiko – Stadt der Frauen (1991). The project about female Chilean artists placed the emphasis on the topics of exile and censorship, whereby both the political censorship under the military dictatorship of Pinochet and the disregarded contributions of women to art history were analysed.
The exhibition-makers of the project Falsch belichtet? Nicaragua im eurofotografischen Blick (1991) took a decidedly reflective approach to the potential of documentary photography. In doing so, they were also reacting to criticism that contemporary left-wing movements projected unilateral phantasies of desire and revolution onto the social movements in the New World. In his piece for the catalogue, Norbert Ahrens makes the polemic argument: “Apart from the nearby and politically friendly Cuba, no country has sent so many work and health brigades, political freaks and revolution tourists to Nicaragua as the western part of Germany. […] It was a delight in revolution, coupled with belated frustration at the failure of 1968 and the secure knowledge of how to do it properly. Even the old chestnuts Vietnam and Cuba were no longer of interest to us”.5

Conditions in Cuba had stabilised, all that was left of the revolution of 1910 in Mexico was the Party of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and in Chile, Pinochet had strangled efforts to affect a a democratic shift of power to the left wing. According to Jörg Boström, disenchantment with the political developments in Latin America also came from the “growing awareness of the automatism of complicity in the exploitation of poorer countries by the industrialised nations, […].”6

The nGbK also commemorated European migrants who fled to Latin America before the Second World War to escape fascism, including many artists and intellectuals. The exhibition Clément Moureau/ Carl Meffert in 1978 remembered the anti-fascist efforts of the artist Carl Meffert, who emigrated to Argentina in 1935. In the exhibition catalogue, Michael Nungesser reported on the examination of the influence of European fascists on the Americas: “The fascist ideology, especially after the seizure of power by the National Socialists in Germany, had an increasingly strong effect on the clubs and institutions of the German diaspora.”7 Nungesser reports on the schism in the German community in Buenos Aires. In the light of events, the Social Democratic Workers’ Federation that had been publishing the magazine Vorwärts in Buenos Aires since 1882 founded the anti-fascist assistance committee entitled Das andere Deutschland.8

Only seldom was attention paid to the history of colonialism and the role of European migrants in political upheaval in Latin America. However, the exhibition Alltag und Vergessen – Argentinien 1976/2003 did address the involvement of European fascists. “For Argentina not only took in thousands of refugees from Germany who had fled fascism, but also Anti-Semites and war criminals.”9 In the exhibition catalogue, Horacio Verbitsky tells of the connections between the dictatorship and the state bankruptcy of Argentina in 2002. The exhibition showed excerpts from the comic El Eternauta by the artist Hector Oesterheld, who, along with his three daughters, was abducted and probably murdered after its publication. In an issue of the comic published in 1976, the central character, Juan Salvo, proclaims a revolution and organises the resistance. Oesterheld drafted the image of toxic, lethal snow falling on Argentina. An image that, to this day, stands for the horrors of the conspiratorial cruelty of the military dictatorship.

Sara Hillnhütter and Eylem Sengezer, 2015, revised 2019
Translation: Don Mac Coitir

  1. Olav Münzberg: Die NGBK auf den Spuren Alexander von Humboldts, in: 21 – was nun? Zwei Jahrzehnte Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, NGBK Berlin 1990, S. 63. 

  2. Gustavo Beccera-Schmidt: Vorwort, in: 100 Chilenische Plakate, hrsg. v. Vereinigung zur Förderung der demokratischen Kultur Chiles, Münster 1977, S. 7. 

  3. 100 Chilenische Plakate, S.111. 

  4. Adriana Valdés: Missing Chile: Weit im Süden. Weit. Sehr weit, in: Eine Ästhetik des Widerstands, in: Alfredo Jaar – The Way it is, NGBK, Berlin 2012, S. 183. 

  5. Norbert Ahrens: Anmerkungen zu zeitweiligen bundesdeutschen Revolutions-Begeisterung, in: Falsch belichtet? Nicaragua im eurofotografischen Blick. Bildentdeckung, NGBK, Berlin 1991. 

  6. Jörg Boström: Die Revolution findet nicht statt in der Fotografie. Dokumentation zwischen Tat und Traum, in: Falsch Belichtet? Nicaragua im eurofotografischen Blick, S. 13f. 

  7. Michael Nungesser: Im argentinischen Exil: Kampf gegen den Faschismus, in: Clément Moreau/Carl Meffert, Grafik für den Mitmenschen, NGBK, Berlin 1978, S. 164. 

  8. Ebd., S. 166.. 

  9. Andrea Guinta: Welcher Umgang ist möglich? Künstlerische Produktion und historisches Bewusstein, in: Alltag und Vergessen – Argentinien 1976/2003, nGbK, Berlin 2003, S. 5.