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October 28–December 30, 2022
End Credits (2012–2022) by Steve McQueen
screenings: October 27–31, November 17–21, December 21–30
October 29, a conversation with Avery F. Gordon, Charisse Burden Stelly, Doreen Mende, Charlotte Misselwitz and Zoé Samudzi
November 19, talks and conversations with Barbara Ransby, Yulia Gradskova and others
Conceptualized by Doreen Mende in conversation with Avery F. Gordon, Lama El Khatib, Aarti Sunder and Katharina Warda
The Missed Seminar After Eslanda Robeson is an archive-based exhibition that resonates in dialogue with the audiovisual installation End Credits (2012–22) by the artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen. The discussion departs from the lives of the Black feminist anthropologist, anticolonial writer, globetrotter, and African-American photographer Eslanda “Essie” Goode Robeson and Paul LeRoy Robeson, with a focus on their friendships in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), and beyond, as a disquieting portal to rewind potential knowledge that rejects global racial capitalism. Conceived as a situated reading of transcontinental world-making practices that reveal and upset the Cold War’s extreme binarism, The Missed Seminar is not a historical reconstruction of the Robesons’ legacies, but a transtemporal metabolization of archival matter––images, scripts, files, films, and Spirituals––that narrates the fearlessness, love, and struggles of living an “antiphonal life” (Shana L. Redmond) that vibrates in the present. It is intended to reveal approaches that connect, in particular, Eslanda’s antifascist, anticolonial, Black feminism, and communist comradery practices using photography, cinema, Spirituals, and techno-politics under the state-pressures of international wartime politics. It is more of a study than a documentation. It imagines a class that might not have been recorded or realized but that students who wanted to practice an intersectional critique, resistance, and imagination for battling fascism, colonialism, and antisemitism would have attended. The Missed Seminar, which is envisioned as unfinished talks, reimagines a suppressed intersectional communism by evoking and rearranging the geopolitics of memory in a time when the Cold War and other imperial divisions of the world continue to exert pressure on the present.
End Credits by Steve McQueen, which lasts 12 hours and 54 minutes in video and 42 hours and 6 minutes in audio, displays thousands of digitalized FBI files as they slowly scroll up on a large screen. These files include file numbers, dates, registration codes, some of which have been heavily redacted or blacked out, as well as forty-two hours of asynchronous voice recordings that make the FBI informants’ reports audible. It is a somber memorial to the state surveillance and defamation campaigns carried out by the US government against Eslanda Robeson and the renowned singer, actor, lawyer, and social activist Paul Robeson. It is installed in the auditorium of the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW), a Cold War masterpiece in Berlin. Between 1950 and 1958, both were prohibited from leaving the country and from working abroad; yet, communist and non-aligned nations all over the world welcomed, encouraged, and praised them. The lengthily extravagant End Credits demonstrate Paul and Eslanda Robeson’s lifelong struggle for freedom, humanity, and justice in conversation with allies of the Pan-African, worker’s, women’s, and communist movements while also exposing the pathology of the US anticommunist hatred that violated their fundamental human rights. The large-scale projection transforms into a mammoth confrontation at the center of the former Congress Hall, a site that was given to the city of West-Berlin by the same anticommunist US government after World War II, in this installation’s world debut at HKW. The Congress Hall was built to promote anticommunism as a precondition for de-Nazification and the idea of “freedom,” directly in opposition to the residents of East Berlin. As a result, the installation is a display that criticizes liberal democracy’s promises as weapons of war from a curatorial and legal standpoint.
The Missed Seminar After Eslanda Robeson is a study that revisits the friendship between Eslanda Robeson and the German-Jewish Marxist philosopher of logic Franz Loeser, situated in East Berlin around the year 1963, in conversation with the high-resolution exposure of US anticommunism in the End Credits. It praises Eslanda Robeson and pays special attention to the significance of her meetings with women’s and student groups in East Berlin and elsewhere. According to Barbara Ransby, her “large and unorthodox life” is all too frequently overshadowed by that of her husband. The Missed Seminar’s critical thread is a photograph of Eslanda Robeson and Franz Loeser meeting in East Berlin: on July 8, 1963, they attend the Supreme Court of the GDR together to witness the prosecution of Hans Globke in absentia, an internationally covered trial against fascism and its proponents who continued to hold power in the systems of post-World War II Germany. This was a critical moment for the two women’s rights movements. The Missed Seminar wants to commemorate the Robeson’s experienced connections, meetings, and memories that remain imprinted in the minds of former communist landscapes in Europe but are all too frequently left out of communism’s prospective histories. Utilizing sonic, visual and display methods and, at the same time, mobilizing archival matter as study material in Black feminist anticolonial internationalism, it aspires to show the necessity of these methods, provoking symptoms of ongoing political depression after 1990, in fighting fascism, colonialism and antisemitism. It aims to be an exercise that reflects on the ambivalence of euro-socialism’s historic claim for antifascism as state-crafting that operated also, however, a state power and thus isolated the Robesons as “so comfortably un-German […] without necessarily having to wrestle with East German anti-Black racism” (Kira Thurman). In exploring “a past the present hasn’t caught up with yet” (Avery F. Gordon) or a “history future” (Matana Roberts), could such an approach constitute a practice of decolonizing socialism from Cold War global politics? Could such a study invoke an interracial imaginary through anticolonial Black feminist internationalism and transcontinental world-making for the purpose of activating an intersectional geopolitics of memory in the present?
The project will continue with a print publication of an interview between Steve McQueen and Doreen Mende for the film’s End Credits, a dossier for the online platform VOICES, and a vitrine intervention in the permanent collection of modern art in the Albertinum of the State Collections of Art, Dresden (SKD).
The Missed Seminar After Eslanda Robeson In Conversation With Steve McQueen’s End Credits is developed in the context of Decolonizing Socialism. Entangled Internationalism (2019–2024), funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation and HEAD Genève, in partnership with HKW and Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden (SKD). It is part of HKW’s project The New Alphabet, supported by the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and the Media due to a ruling of the German Bundestag.