Documenta Fifteen in Amsterdam

Documenta Fifteen intertwined with the city of Kassel, entering museums and art spaces, borrowing public transport, settling in parks and squares, and exhibiting on the city facades. On 25th September more than thirty locations provided space for artist collectives while creating space for encounters, rest and reflection. 

Ruangrupa is the Artistic Direction of the fifteenth edition of Documenta. The Jakarta-based artists’ collective has built the foundation of their Documenta Fifteen on the core values and ideas of lumbung, which is an Indonesian term for a communal rice barn. Lumbung as an artistic and economic model is rooted in principles such as collectivity, communal resource sharing, and equal allocation, and is embodied in all parts of the collaboration and the exhibition.

Replacing the dominant Western European discourse and imagining Documenta as a platform for exchange, they bring collectives from the whole world, creating environments where principles of collectivity, resource building and equitable distribution are pivotal.

‘We want to create a globally oriented, collaborative and interdisciplinary art and culture platform that will remain effective beyond the 100 days of Documenta Fifteen. Our curatorial approach strives for a different kind of collaborative model of resource use — in economic terms but also with regard to ideas, knowledge, programs and innovations.’ says Ruangrupa

The invited collectives performed their artistic statements in the tense or problematic context from which they arise. The content of this exhibition confronts the destruction of many lives, brought by colonialism and imperialism. It confronts control, repression, and violence, that are still imposed on many societies today and brings stories of many people who are dislocated because their country is ruled by war, exploited by the mafia or capitalism. It is also witnessing the power of people – to unite, to fight, to resist and it is showing what role art can operate in this battle. 

The Black Archives from Amsterdam, present their work in the Fridericianum, the main hall of Documenta. The Black Archives, managed by the New Urban Collective, is a unique historical archive for inspiring conversations, activities and literature from Black and other perspectives that are often overlooked elsewhere. 

The Black Archives documents the history of black emancipation movements and individuals in the Netherlands. It consists of unique book collections, archives and artefacts that are the legacy of Black Dutch writers and scientists. The more than 10.000 books in the collections focus on racism and race issues, slavery and (the) colonization, gender and feminism, social sciences and development, Suriname, the Netherlands Antilles, South America, Africa and more. Based on the collections The Black Archives develop exhibitions, public programmes and other educational and inspirational activities.

Inspired by the practice of lumbung The Black Archives share stories uncovered in the archive which show histories of a Black radical tradition and stories of transnational solidarity. They present the international dimension of the stories of Black radical thinkers and activists Anton de Kom, Hermina & Otto Huiswoud. For Documenta Fifteen The Black Archives developed an extra chapter of the exhibition ‘Facing Blackness: Visual Representations of Black People and Their History of Resistance’ which is on view at The Black Archives in Amsterdam. In this extra chapter, they highlight the role of German missionaries in the European colonies such as Surinam, the history of scientific racism in Europe, imagery about Black people & resistance against it.

Documenta is an event established in Kassel, Germany after the Second World War, as a means of recovery and building a national and international community with the help of aesthetic and intellectual experience. It takes place every five years and as such reflects the rapid changes in the world since the middle of the 20th century. 

Documenta Fifteen considered the problematics of the exhibition of its size: the challenge to grasp mentally and physically the big amount of information. Documenta Fifteen is offering to its audience multiple power stations – places to contemplate, rest, eat and meet. These stations are art situations by themselves, they intertwine contemporary art with life, considering human needs and providing care. Inside the exhibition context, there is a communal kitchen, kids’ playground and toddler care, as well as a party office.

To confront the terrors of this world is an unpleasant, nauseating feeling that leaves a hole in the stomach. But if at this moment you find yourself being safe and relatively unrestricted, then you have the capacity to know, try to comprehend and support the struggles of the ones who are not. 

Documenta Fifteen gave its visitors opportunities to get to know the histories and present situations of many societies while confronting the inability to know everything. It reminds us to question how societies are structured and encourages us to self-organize in resistance. It is showing examples of how to actively provide space to underrepresented voices and suggests finding the time to take a step back for someone else to take the step forward.  Elena Apostolovski  28th September 2022