From the exhibition text THE FACULTY OF SENSING – Thinking With, Through, and By Anton Wilhelm Amo, at Kunstverein Braunschweig (DE) from 28 March till 2 August 2020:
The title While we were Kings and Queens refers to the fact that highly developed cultures existed on the African continent long before the Europeans established the transatlantic slave trade. Up untill today there is the notion that Black people’s history started when Europeans set foot on the African shores.
In 1712 – the same year that Jean Jacques Rousseau was born – Willy Lynch gave an infamous speech to slave owners in the Colony of Virginia, sharing his methods of oppressing Black slaves. The term ‘lynching’ is derived from his name.
A basic principle of the Enlightment says that knowledge is more important than origin. Everyone is born a ‘tabula rasa’ (empty sheet) and gains knowledge and experiences during their life. Everyone has the same start; accordingly, everyone deserves the same opportunities for emancipation and democratic living conditions.
For the exhibition pieces I have printed images of proud and beautiful Black and Brown people on pages of a book called The European Enlightment: Zeitalter der Aufklärung published in 1976. The book gives an overview of the European and German Enlightment and provides an insight as well as historical context to Arno’s life and work. This particular book was part of my 2017-performance Daughter of Diaspora I did at the Decolonial Summer school in Middelburg (NL). As a result from the performance some of the pages contain angry texts and remarks by the Black and Brown students who’s ancestors are not considered here.
I am fascinated by Wilhelm Arno’s ideas concerning the body and the mind where he says that the mind can’t feel pain. It’s only the body that can perceive pain. Willy Lynch’s speech shows how the brain can invent immense cruelties because it is decoupled from the body. With While we were Kings and Queens, I also want to show the white Psychosis in which Black and Brown bodies are trapped. A psychoses that on the one hand has promoted emancipation and equality, but on the other hand is reponsible for terrible crimes. The sentences from Willy Lynch’s speech thus stand in sharp contrast to the German Enlightment texts and the philosophy of Anton Wilhelm Arno’s.
text: Patricia Kaersenhout
Click here to find out more about the exhibition THE FACULTY OF SENSING .