Via the Washington Post. This was originally written by Jessica Dawson; you can see the full article at the website. Jessica Dawson writes a great review of a new photography exhibition about Muslim women in Germany which highlights tensions and Islamophobia rather than assuages them:
“‘Muslim Women,’ Sans Context” by Jessica Dawson
“Muslim Women in Germany,” a new photography exhibition soon to reopen at the Goethe-Institut, proves much less straightforward than its simple title suggests.
Upward of 3 million Muslims live in Germany; more than 2 million of them are Turks. Many are guest workers who arrived in the 1960s (hired to do menial jobs the Germans wouldn’t) and their children and grandchildren.
In recent years, the Turkish minority’s increased visibility has been met by escalating resentment. Recent mosque-building projects provoked anxiety and xenophobia; hundreds of thousands of Turkish retirees requiring medical care have put strains on resources already limited by reunification.
So when the Turkish flag figures in a number of the photographs at Goethe, it signals a loaded issue for many Germans — an issue the Institut should handle with care.
Yet prudence didn’t guide the show’s curators. This wide-ranging selection of photographs of Muslim women is almost entirely devoid of context. Some pictures could be a photojournalist’s investigation of Muslim identity, some could be frank attempts at capturing the country’s minority relations. But we don’t know for sure. And neither does the Institut.
We’ve lost these pictures’ context because they are stock images ordered from an agency. We don’t know why many were taken, or where, or for what purpose. Culled from the portfolios of four photographers belonging to the photo agency Ostkreuz, the pictures fulfill the Institut’s order for photos of Germany’s Muslim women.
What the Institut received includes many straightforward documentary-style pictures. Anne Schoenharting enters homes and apartments where she photographs women tending to children, preparing meat and performing other domestic chores. Maurice Weiss finds women engaged in political rallies. Jordis Antonia Schloesser captures women on the street and at private parties.
Yet the handful of pictures by Nicole Angstenberger hanging in the Institut’s lobby look vaguely advertorial. Her pictures show beautiful young dark-skinned women in a nondescript living room, looking as if they’re getting ready for a wedding. Or, rather, looking as if they’re in an advertisement depicting women getting ready for a wedding.
When I asked Goethe staff to explain the context of Angstenberger’s photos, they couldn’t say.
The Institut says the exhibit is part of an ongoing look at ethnic tensions in Germany, presumably to further tolerance and dialogue. Yet choosing work solely for its content — Muslim women — smacks of cursory selection by religion and gender.
Though I assume the slight was unintentional, the Institut’s approach to the curating of this exhibition was superficial at best. At worst, its method perpetuates judgments based on outward characteristics and traits — the kind of attitude that begets tensions in the first place.