'Not fully human, not human at all'
Curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez & Bettina Steinbrügge, organized by KADIST Foundation, Hamburg. October 2020.
This exhibition looks into processes of dehumanization that are taking place in Europe. Dehumanization is generally understood as the degradation of human life, performed by human beings upon one another. A number of recent occurrences have lead to stricter policies of immigration, new forms of nationalism, limits on universal access to healthcare, neo-liberal pressure on state economic policies, the erosion of rights for foreign workers, and the consecration of what defines Europe both culturally and geographically. These occurrences are coexistent with an implicit reevaluation of who decides who is considered human at all, and are part of a historically reoccurring process. This exhibition happens at a time when various world-wide states of emergency related to COVID-19 have exacerbated the lack of access to health services as a basic human right; and is concurrent with a rise in extremist Right-wing politics which is inspired by dehumanizing acts of violence. In these current circumstances, it seems urgent that we, cultural workers, keep aware of these trends and make our objections visible in our artistic production and in our cultural institutions.
Not Fully Human, Not Human at All takes its name from Donna Haraway’s essay “Ecce Homo, Ain’t (Ar’n’t) I a Woman, and Inappropriate/d Others”, a text which challenges the “universal” claims of Enlightenment Humanism in order to propose conditions of what she calls “non-generic” collective humanity. In this text, Haraway refers to Hortense Spillers’ description of the levels of dehumanization faced by slaves in the United States, their treatment of being disposable, and their lack of any legal subjectivity—conditions that we can find in Europe today. We might enhance this position with some words by poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, from her poem This is Not a Humanizing Poem which demands: “if you need me to prove my humanity, I am not the one that’s not human”. In stating this, Manzoor-Khan points to art’s refusal—and by extension the artist’s refusal—to speak from a position demanded from the outside—to play the role of the Other. It is by narrativizing her act of refusal, of not-not writing a humanizing poem, that she truly humanizes her work. It is in this semantic play, that we are led to think about by who, by what, in which circumstances and by what processes someone might be determined not human. The artists in this exhibition set out from similar positions as both Haraway, Spillers and Manzoor-Khan in order to propose new ways of thinking through our collective states of humanity.
This new exhibition, symposium and publication focuses on Europe as a geographic and conceptual framework, while reflecting on the dehumanization that characterizes many of the activities that humans have been doing in the name of “humanity” within its borders. It follows up on a three year project initiated by KADIST and curated by Nataša Petrešin-Bachelez that appeared in three different European localities—Kosovo, Portugal, and Belgium—with institutional partners in these contexts.