April 26, 2019

Olu Oguibe's Documenta Obelisk Returns to Kassel

KASSEL, GERMANY—After being dismantled in October amid rising pressure from far-right politicians, artist Olu Oguibe’s concrete obelisk returned to Kassel, Germany, on Thursday, Monopol reports. Monument to Strangers and Refugees, 2017, was originally installed in Kassel’s Königsplatz for Documenta 14 and was intended as a rebuke to xenophobia. The monument bears the inscription “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matthew 25:35), in four different languages: Arabic, English, German, and Turkish.

The Nigerian-born, US-based artist was awarded the quinquennial’s Arnold Bode Prize by the city, which called the fifty-three-foot structure “an affirmation of the timeless, universal principles of attention and care towards all those affected by flight and persecution.” The monument was purchased by Kassel following a crowdfunding campaign in 2018, but its pro-refugee message and central location were considered controversial by conservative lawmakers, some of which viewed the piece as an endorsement of Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Under Merkel, Germany welcomed more than one million refugees into the country in 2015. The open-door policy was both celebrated and criticized. Backlash over Merkel’s stance on immigration contributed to the loss of Parliament seats to Germany’s right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) party in 2017. That same year, she agreed to restrict the annual number of asylum-seekers entering Germany to two hundred thousand.

As a result of the dispute over the work, it was unclear when the piece would be reinstalled. To appease dissenters, the city proposed moving the monument. Oguibe was vehemently opposed to the idea but eventually conceded. “I am glad that the obelisk will be rebuilt,” he said. “The struggle to keep the obelisk in its original location was important and honorable, but equally important was my commitment to keeping it in Kassel.” The work can now be found in the Treppenstrasse, a square near the Königsplatz.

Documenta’s director general, Sabine Schormann, said, “It means a lot to me that this important Documenta 14 artwork is now permanently back in Kassel’s center.” A festival honoring the work and its reinstallation will be held on May 11.

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