- What does a collective of “we” look like that does not emerge from excluding “the others”?
- How does one deal with madness in disguise of religion or nationalism or any other “-ism”?
- How can “a new narrative for Europe” include non-Europe-centered perspectives?
- How can a diverse Europe tell a story that’s not just “a tale of hunters”?
As a Taiwan-born artist living in Germany for more than a decade, I have grown more and more interested in the construction of “the other” and the concept of “a collective unity,” a so-called “we”.
In 2014, I have dedicated myself and my work to the question of “we” through the immigrants’ perspective from the fall of the Berlin Wall till today. “We are the people” was chanted by the protesters on the streets of the former East Germany. But who was “we” when two German states became one again? Migrants had been living in the former West and East Germany and were part of both societies then. But were they included in that chanted “we”? The burning of the asylum-seekers’ and migrant workers’ homes in the early 90s and cases of attacks and murders of those with an immigration background seemed to give a negative answer. Through my interviews with eyewitnesses, I have learnt the duality of their experience of the fall of the Wall as both welcoming and threatening – a collision of celebration with the anxiety accompanying freedom. With my production company “Sisyphos, der Flugelefant” (SdF), I have developed a site-specific performance “We Are the Play” that opened last September on the site of Berlin Wall Memorial and a documentary short “Auch mein Mauerfall!” (The Berlin Wall Fell For Me, Too!), which premiered at the Interfilm Festival in Berlin. Our aim was to raise awareness for the unheard voices and unseen perspectives. So we were very happy when the press started to cover our project and discussed about the impact of the fall of the Berlin wall on different migrant groups. A real sense of fulfillment and joy rose when our eyewitnesses or audience members who I don’t know came up to me after the show and expressed how touched they were to feel their voice and their stories were finally included.
Just when I thought I could finally take a break from the productive yet demanding year filled with excessive dialogues and exchange, I heard the shouting of “Wir sind das Volk” (“We Are the People”) coming out of a YouTube video showing a protest in Dresden. At first I thought it was a historical documentary but then I realized it was an actual present event. The protestors call themselves “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West” (PEGIDA). I still remember how I got goose bumps and how my body shivered in a hot tub in the sound of their collective chanting. I couldn’t help wondering: What does a collective of “we” look like that does not emerge from excluding “the others”?
This January, the whole world was shocked by the attack of the French Satire magazine Charlie Hebdo. 12 people were killed by the Islamist gunmen, who claimed to defend their God, their religion. What they probably didn’t know was that among those “enemies” they have killed, Ahmed Merabet was a Muslim. But then as Ahmed’s brother said, “…he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims… One must not confuse extremists with Muslims. Mad people have neither colour nor religion.” How does one deal with madness in disguise of religion or nationalism or any other “-ism”?
2014 was a year of remembrance. On the one hand, it marked the 100th anniversary of the starting of the World War One; on the other hand, it celebrated the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, which ended the Cold War. Both historical events were Europe-centered and the main focus of 2014 in the mass media continued to be just so. However, the European battlefield during the World War One had long extended to the European colonies. Back then, Taiwan, where I was born, was governed by the Japanese, who made use of the European Colonial Power in China to help develop its own colonial ambition in Asia. During the Cold War, the Western Front “supported” the Republic of China (R.O.C.) under the Regime of Chiang Kai-Shek in Taiwan to go against China ruled by Mao and its Chinese communist party, which was seen as a part of the Soviet-Union Front. In 1971, also as a strategy to weaken the Soviet-Union Front, the Western Front sided with People Republic of China (P.R.C.) by acknowledging its legal status to represent China and its one-China policy. Ever since then, R.O.C in Taiwan is no longer a member of the United Nations. This is just the tip of the iceberg to say that the impact of these two major historical events has long reached beyond European continent. As a matter of fact, it also resulted in mass migration not only within European continent but also from other continents to Europe. How can “a new narrative for Europe” include non-Europe-centered perspectives?
Together with 6 other organizations in Porto, Lisbon (Portugal), Bucharest (Romania) and Berlin (Germany), I was working on a project sketch called “EU Invisible”. Our aim was to use artistic methods to make the long neglected perspectives of the recent history of our inhabitant country visible. As the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Adichie in her speech “the danger of a single story“ said, “Those stories matter, many stories matter.” Ignoring those often unseen perspectives implies neglecting certain groups’ active participation in the past and denying their voice and thus their existence in the community.
While ex-president of the European Commission José Manuel Barroso called for “a New Narrative for Europe” and for “the new generation…to tell the story of Europe… to write the book of the present and of the future,” Europe’s now is still haunted by its unresolved past: the cold war (how it still influences certain Western EU countries dealing with certain Eastern EU countries), the long term impact of its colonial past, the place of Roma and Sinti in our societies, just to name a few. As a proverb goes, “Till the lions have their own historians, the tale of hunting will always glorify the hunters.” How can a diverse Europe tell a story that’s not just “a tale of hunters”?