The city fo Kassel wants to relocate Olu Oguibe’s public sculpture, commissioned for last year’s Documenta.
Olu Oguibe’s “Monument to Strangers and Refugees,” one of the most visible works commissioned for last year’s Documenta 14, has come under increasing threat due to the rise of right-wing, anti-immigrant sentiment across Germany.
The work in question, a concrete obelisk, reads “I was a stranger and you took me in,” a verse from Matthew 25:35 inscribed in gold letters in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. The work “was designed specifically for Kassel and the public square on which it stands,” Oguibe, who was awarded the prestigious Arnold Bode Prize in Kassel in July 2017 has said, describing it as a “call to action” that references the plight of people in diaspora who have been forced to flee their homes either due to war, famine, or otherwise.
However, the campaign failed after three months to meet its target, raising only €126,000 (~$147,000). Nevertheless, Oguibe agreed to sell the work to the city at a discounted rate, so long as the work would remain in Königsplatz. Since 1977, Documenta has acquired 16 sculptures or installations permanently for the city.
In Kassel’s bid to acquire the work, Völker is reported to have suggested moving the obelisk to another location in the less central Holländischer Platz, or Dutch Square, a move Oguibe believes is motivated by pressure from the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to rid the city center of the work. According Kassel City Councilman Thomas Materner, a member of the AfD, the obelisk is “ideologically polarizing, disfigured art,” an apparent evocation of the term “degenerate art,” which was adopted in the 1920s by the Nazi Party in an effort to denounce modern art that did not conform to its toxic ideology.
“The Obelisk says no more and no less than ‘Love Thy Neighbor’ (Mark 12:31). But here it is the stranger who says it: ‘I was a stranger and you took me in’—simply stating a fact without imposing a moral imperative on the host,” Documenta 14 artistic director Adam Szymczyk told Hyperallergic following the recent move by the Kassel city council to relocate the obelisk. “I think it is symptomatic that no political declaration of support has come in favor of the Obelisk from the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) that rules Hessia [the state where Kassel is located], and neither from the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) that rules in Kassel. The messages coming from those parties have been unclear at best. The spectacle we have been witnessing in Kassel is not only a problem of AfD and other nationalist, populist-rightwing parties rising to prominence in Germany and elsewhere, but the problem of mainstream politics failing or fearing to take a position vis-à-vis the urgent issues in our societies, as in Germany as elsewhere.”