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Henrik Langsdorf Posts

Blind Spots in the Sun at ruruhaus/documenta fifteen & art in public space

As part of an event held by Blind Spots in the Sun at ruruhaus/documenta fifteen during KW35 (Kassel Museum Week) Henrik Langsdorf’s video installation “Rudolf Duala Manga Bell — a German Story” was shown for the first time. It was again on view at ruruhaus as part of the International Weeks against Racism in March 2022 and was shown at MARKK Museum in Hamburg, Germany.

Burning Village in Cameroon
“Burning Village”, a scene from “Rudolf Duala Manga Bell – a German Story”, 2021-22

The video presentation was preceded by a panel discussion on the correlation between the German colonial history and anti-Black racism in Germany today — the core issues at the heart of Blind Spots in the Sun, an initiative that deals with these questions through a series of art interventions.

Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell with Henrik Langsdorf and Reza Afisina of ruangrupa (curators of documenta fifteen)

“Rudolf Duala Manga Bell — a German Story” tells the story of  a Cameroonian king who was executed by the German colonial government for his resistance against German plans to establish an apartheid system in his hometown Douala. 

What makes his case unique is that he fought the German Empire on its own turf, using the principles of rule of law against his oppressor: he repeatedly submitted petitions to the German parliament, sent telegrams to the Reich’s chancellor and even got the press involved to sway public opinion to make his case.  

The interwoven narratives between German and Cameroonian interests go back at least two generations, when Duala Manga Bell’s grandfather King Bell, who was one of several leaders from Duala (Cameroon), signed a ‘protection treaty’ with German merchants in 1884. This led to Cameroon becoming a German colony. On the outset the Duala leaders, who had been engaging in international trade for generations, were seeking to formalize relations with German merchants in the hope of a mutually beneficial relationship with Germany.

As part of the effort the Bell family sent their scion Rudolf to Germany, where he received a warm welcome. Studying classics of German literature, he became an admirer of German culture and developed a keen interest in the legal system as an aspiring law student.

“Being German” A scene from “Rudolf Duala Manga Bell – a German Story”, 2021-22

While looking at Duala Manga Bell’s quest to become a model citizen of the German Empire — he was said to have perfected his command of the language as well as his manners and was highly respected among colonial officials — and the ensuing battle that frustrated all his aspirations, the video installation ties this piece of shared history to the present by inserting images of contemporary Germans of all skin colors, uttering the word “deutschsein” (being German) or reading poetry by the Afro-German writer May Ayim, thus raising questions of cultural identity in Germany today. 

Though Langsdorf approaches these issues in the form of artistic examination, the piece does not shy away from delivering historic information, which has led to inquiries from schools and academics to use this work as  teaching material.

For the research on this project, Langsdorf collaborated with Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, great-granddaughter of Duala Manga Bell as well as his great-nephew Jean-Pierre Félix Eyoum.

From left to right: Emilene Wopana Mudimu, Henrik Langsdorf, Aisha Camara, Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, Jean-Pierre Félix Eyoum

Prior to the presentation of the video installation, Princess Douala Manga Bell gave a personal introduction of her ancestor during the opening remarks of the panel discussion that took place that evening at ruruhaus in cooperation with the Heinrich Böll Foundation Hessen. 

The panel included filmmaker Mo Asumang, who received the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany for her anti-racism work, Princess Marilyn Douala Manga Bell, who is a social economist, curator and co-founder of doual’art in Duala, Cameroon, and who received the 2021 Medal of Honor of the Federal Republic of Germany from the Goethe-Institut, Emilene Wopana Mudimu, who is a social worker, poetry artist and activist in the fields of empowerment work with black people and anti-racism training, Jean-Pierre Félix-Eyoum, who worked as a special education teacher and is a co-founder of Deutschland Postkolonial, and Henrik Langsdorf.

Blind Spots in the Street

Blind Spots in the Sun began in spring 2021 with an open call for a public art project in which artists, illustrators, designers and photographers from the former German colonies in Africa as well as Afro-German artists were invited to express their views on how the German colonial history and/or anti-Black racism in Germany has affected their lives. 

In August, the winning entries as well as the results of the project “What we don’t see in Kassel” were put up on billboards in various places around the city center.

The initiative was launched in Kassel, the town of 200,000 in Germany that spawned documenta and that sees itself as a haven of culture and open-mindedness. Yet it was also in Kassel, were racist murders took place and where a monument created by Olu Oguibe for documenta 14 had to be moved from one of the central squares in the heart of Kassel to another location, bowing to pressure from the extreme-right party AFD.

The name Blind Spots in the Sun is derived from the phrase “We, too, claim our place in the sun,” which German Foreign Minister Bernhard von Bülow used in 1897 to describe the colonial policy of the German Empire. It also alludes to the many blind spots that exist in the German collective consciousness vis a vis this chapter of its history, and how it helped to embed a more subtle form of racism in the German psyche that remains virulent today. 

Racism is often equated with right-wing extremism. This assumption presents a convenient way of eschewing responsibility while it stands in the way of a deeper and more nuanced analysis of the issue. 

The vast majority of Germans, though avowed non-racists by self-definition, are not aware that the seemingly harmless act of stereotyping is already a form of racism that can be hurtful and lead to real disadvantages. The effects are othering and micro-aggressions. The fact that in most cases these smaller acts of racism are unintended does not diminish their impact on the psyche of many Afro-Germans.

By exposing these blind spots, this Kassel initiative seeks to disrupt and spark the discourse, and to contribute to a broader definition of racism. The ultimate goal is that the white majority in Germany recognizes its own stake in the issue. A first step is educating ourselves, followed by taking more responsibility and by critically reflecting our own behavior.

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Rudolf Duala Manga Bell — a German story

This film tells the extraordinary story of a Cameroonian King who used peaceful protests and rule of law to fight the brutal German colonial regime. 

To quash his resistance against their apartheid plans for his hometown Douala, for which he used modern methods such as PR and lobbying, the German Empire used a pretext to put him on trial for high treason without due process and executed him in 1914.

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell – a German Story, 2021-22. Two-channel video installation

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell — a German story

Written, directed and produced by Henrik Langsdorf

Rudolf Duala Manga Bell swim scenes: Ronald Wekika, Yosef Yemane

Extras: Nadine Kiala, Monika Fayed, Esther Bresinski-Seehaus, Natalie Tönnis, Langston Henry, Balahan Ersöz, Tobias Trepte, Tom Edelkind, Wolfgang Wilke, Marilen De Schrevel, Phyllis Quartey, Kevin Vietzke

Narration: Thomas Stimmel, Jean-Pierre Félix Eyoum, Markus Strube, Stephan Szász, Nadine Kiala

Editor: Julian Emig

Animation: Kyle Griffin, Julian Emig

Sound designer: Peter Janssen

Camera: Peter Janssen, Ahmed Nafi, Frederic Hafner, Thomas Stimmel, Henrik Langsdorf

Camera assistant: Mario Hickethier

Production assistant: Marilen De Schrevel

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“Ville Fantôme: From Utopia To The Present” at the Congo Biennale

Video Installation by Henrik Langsdorf at Congo Biennale
Ville Fantôme and Vertical City, 2019. Two-channel video installation at the Congo Biennale. Photo ©Henrik Langsdorf

 

In this multi-channel video installation Henrik Langsdorf juxtaposes the utopian architectural vision of Congolese artist Bodys Isek Kingelez (1948–2015) with his own visual reflections on urbanism in present-day Kinshasa in the form of animation and collage.

Ville Fantome - an utopian architectural model by Bodys Isek Kingelez.
Bodys Isek Kingelez: Ville Fantôme, 1996. Photo ©Henrik Langsdorf

Kingelez, who remains largely unknown in the Congo despite international acclaim, became known for his “extrême maquettes”, extremely colorful architectural models that promise a bright future not only for Kinshasa and other places in his native country, but the world at large.

In “Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa La Belle” Langsdorf asks the question: What if some of Kingelez’ structures had actually been built? How might this wildly beautiful wonderland where “delinquents, police and prisons do not exist” as Kingelez proposed in an artist statement about his “Projet pour le Kinshasa du Troisième Millénaire”, have fared two decades into this Third Millennium?”.

egg vendor walking through Ville Fantome by Bodys Isek Kingelez
Henrik Langsdorf: “Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa La Belle” I, 2019

Chika Okeke-Agulu, an art historian at Princeton University described Kingelez’ cityscapes as “spectacular architectural form as a counter-narrative to the dystopian realities of Kinshasa”. Langsdorf ventures to reconnect them with these realities.
By Stripping the buildings of their exuberant hues, and exposing them to imagined aging and decay, he adapts them to the monochromatic aesthetic of his own “metabolist collages”, which feature grimy brutalist buildings of the kind found in present-day Kinshasa.

“I have long been drawn to utopian ideas in architecture, and seeing Kingelez’ retrospective at the MoMA in New York last year was extremely exhilarating and touching.
But I’m also drawn to urban decay, failed architectural utopias and the bleakness they leave in their wake, and how inhabitants deal with them”, says Langsdorf, “which ultimately compelled me to make these videos.”

“Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa La Belle”, a 7 minute animated video, opens with a black and white view of Kingelez’ “Ville Fantôme”. The only person populating the vast boulevards is a street vendor who balances a stack of egg cartons on his head. As the camera zooms in, a vertical city grows on top of the egg cartons.

collage of Kinshasa buildings
Henrik Langsdorf: “Ville Fantôme/Kinshasa La Belle” II, 2019

In the second part of the video entitled “Kinshasa La Belle”, Langsdorf invokes aerial footage of cities destroyed during World War II, and thus confronts these unabashedly cheerful cityscapes with the grim history of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has endured a war that claimed over 5 million lives. In the ensuing scene that shows a collage of rapidly growing abstract shapes combined with actual Kinshasa buildings, he comments on the uncontrolled growth that this city of over 10 million has been experiencing for the last few decades.

The videos are accompanied by a sound mesh of Kinshasa street noise.

“Vertical City”, a 2 minute animated loop, features parts of Kingelez’ buildings woven into a proliferation of plant-like shapes that instead of buds and blossoms bear morsels of existing Kinshasa architecture that play off the notion that dwellings are like living organisms and units are cells, as envisioned by the metabolist architecture movement in Japan in the 1950s and 60s.
In the resulting thicket Langsdorf pays tribute to the denizens of Kinshasa, who pulse through the ever-congested arteries of this city in overcrowded yellow cabs and taxi buses.

collage of Kinshasa buildings by Henrik Langsdorf
Henrik Langsdorf: “Vertical City”, animated collage. 2019

It is these two poles of Congolese creativity, the exalted yet controlled grandiosity of Kingelez’ vision and the humble improvisation of the daily struggle of the people of Kinshasa, that Langsdorf seeks to both celebrate and refract through the prism of his dystopian lens.

video projection by Henrik Langsdorf at Congo Biennale
Henrik Langsdorf: “Vertical City”, 2019 at Congo Biennale
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Mural for Ken Allen Studios

Mural for Ken Allen Studios. Dye sublimation print on aluminum.
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11 Murals to Enliven Low-Income Housing Retirement Home (Albany, NY)

Eleven Murals Enliven Low-Income Housing Retirement Home (Albany, NY)

A set of eleven of murals was commissioned by New York-based developer Royce Mulholland, who decided that a soulless 1960s structure he had acquired for redevelopment could be brought to life by the right art, and that this aesthetic upgrade would help brighten the lives of its residents.

02[a0034-len]-3C1Q5545C1 07[a0029-bowt-ro]-3C1Q5471C-72 08[a0007-AG-ex-red-3C1Q5433C-72 08[a0007-AG-ex-red-elev-3C1Q4764

“Royce on the Park”, as it is now called, is a low-income housing retirement home in Albany, NY, that features a 23 x 8 foot mural by Henrik Langsdorf on each of its eleven residential floors. The works were curated by Marius Muresanu, a photographer whose work is on display in the common areas on the ground floor and top floors of the building.

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Stage projection for a concert at Goethe University, Frankfurt

stage_LangsdorfTwo works by Henrik Langsdorf were selected for a stage projection for a concert honoring Renate von Metzler, honorary senator of Goethe University Frankfurt.

Runge & Ammon with stage projection by Henrik Langsdorf
Stage photos by Uwe Dettmar, Frankfurt

The concert featured a program of tango adaptations by acclaimed duo Runge & Ammon.
Cellist Eckart Runge, who is a founding member of the world famous Artemis Quartet, has made a name for himself – in tandem with his duo partner pianist Jacques Ammon – for exploring the intersections of classical music, tango, jazz and film music.

series J [rb]
untitled, 2016
series C [separh]
untitled, 2012

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