On display in Hamburg: “Streamlines: Oceans, Global Trade and Migration”

Modern art is not for everyone. I stumbled across this exhibition at the Hall for Contemporary Art (Deichtorhallen) purely by accident. With the Kunsthalle closed until the end of April because of renovation, I had to come up with ‘the second best art thing’ in Hamburg for my visiting guests from good old Dutchland. With the Museum for Kunst und Gerwerbe ruled out because of too large a collection of objects, I decided on the Deichtorhallen, mainly because it was one of the few places I had heard mentioning before.

In all honesty, although I did like the idea of going to the Hall of Photography, the Hall of Contemporary Art did not appeal to me in the least. I like to be able to recognize what I see, and I would pick 16th century paintings over contemporary art any time. But as on arrival the Hall of Photography also turned out to be closed, I found myself suddenly visiting a modern art exhibition. Which I usually dead, as you always need a whole lot of fantasy to enjoy those. But this time, I was truly impressed and fascinated. I simply loved this exhibition, and so did my guests. With three people highly recommending the streamlines exhibition, why not give it a shot? I guarantee you won’t be disappointed!

The exhibition in short: As a port city Hamburg has strong connections to the outside world, from North and Latin America to Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Using the theme of “the ocean as a sixth continent”, this exhibition examines the cultural effects of the global stream of goods and trade, using the ocean as a metaphor. The exhibition features projects on waterways, flight, the port and international trade by artists from every corner of the world, representing the international struggle for political and economic control. The exhibition touches on social, political and economic inequalities and the notion of borders and property – all in relations to water.

Now, this sounds all a little pretentious and all, I realize that. My company and I were also rolling our eyes when we read that, but these skeptics were already won over after examining the first art work, Bouchra Khalili’s portrait of a young Filipino sailer, who relates about the sailor’s life in the 21st century. When we moved on to Otobong Nkanga’s project of the smells of the global trade we were convinced: this was good stuff. Very, very good stuff.

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Otobong Nkanga

Choosing my favourite project is hard, as many of them stood out in a particular way. I simply loved Kader Attia’s work on Algiers, for two reasons in particular: his portraits of youth longing for a better life across the big pond not only touches on contemporary refugee problems, but also on stories of a more personal nature, as I know so many brilliant young men and women in North Africa who would do nothing rather than leave and build a life for themselves far away from home, whether it’s Morocco, Tunisia or Egypt. I feel for them, as the privilege of my passport allows me to think without borders, whereas they are faced with living in troubled places that are very difficult to escape.

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Kader Attia

Mark Boulos’ two-sided portrait of the struggle for oil in the Niger Delta also deserves special mentioning here.  Although it is clear where his sympathies lies (hint: not with the guys from the stock exchange) it is a powerful reminder that things are not always as black and white as the media portrays them to be. Those “terrorists” fighting the government and the big oil companies stealing their wealth, they do seem to have a fair point on further examination. After all, why would the locals not profit from oil in their backyard? Those Gulf guys certainly did a better job in this regard!

Boulos, as well as the 14 other artists participating in this exhibition, succeed in having you re-examine your own perceptions and re-think conceptions as globalization and international interconnectedness. They challenge your every thought and assumption, and in this way create an exhibition that is more than just your regular exhibition. Unlike some other exhibitions, it provides not just a few hours of entertainment, but also subjects for long and interesting discussions afterwards. I I thoroughly enjoyed both the exhibition and the discussions after it. It is on display for two more weeks: go see it!

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