It took three weeks for the statement by Kader Attia and the curatorial team of the Berlin Biennale on the allegations made by Iraqi participants at the end of July that they no longer wanted to leave their contributions hanging in the immediate vicinity of an installation by Jean-Jacques Lebel. His work “Soluble Poison. Scenes from the time of the American occupation in Baghdad” (2012) shows enlarged sections of well-known torture photos from Abu Ghraib prison in the form of a labyrinth.

The reaction of Layth Kareem, Raed Mutar and Sajjad Abbas to Kader’s astonishing late public statement followed all the faster. Just one day later, the artists announced their withdrawal from the Biennale, after initially agreeing to a transfer of their works away from Lebel to the Akademie der Küste on Pariser Platz and Kunst-Werke. You will now be left behind.

The Berlin Biennale thus has its own scandal, which can only be compared with that of the Documenta to a limited extent. What both processes have in common, however, is that political debates dominate the perception of the exhibitions, and therefore of the art. Given their agendas, this is not surprising, especially in the case of the Berlin Biennale, which is dedicated to the concept of decolonization and seeks to trace the consequences of colonialism in contemporary society. However, there is disagreement about the form.

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While Attia expects a catharsis from the offensive depiction of the torture photos, the Iraqi artists perceive this as a continuation of the acts of violence committed by the American occupiers. In their response to Attia’s statement, which has been republished in the US magazine Artforum, they accuse the Berlin Biennale of being paternalistic and declare that they don’t want to be lectured on how to understand their own history. The mutual misunderstanding can hardly be greater.

Attia’s concept of repair, which he demonstrates as an artist on objects by depicting scarring, and as a thinker and activist in his Parisian exhibition space La Colonie, sought to extend to individual and social traumata, encounters resistance here. The conflict could still be fruitful. In its most recent communication, the Biennale team emphasizes that it is still interested in working through the controversy and is open to dialogue.

An invitation should be invited to an event in which the participants exchange information publicly. The workshop “Trust” by the artist Susana Pilar on the question of trust, which has already been announced for next week, could also help.