Decolonizing the city
by Filipa Pontes
In this workshop, Filipa invited the participants to drift in the city to critically observe the public space with a decolonial perspective.
Berlin is at the centre of Europe. The city was built based on the "universal" shaped by the white - man - heterosexual - wealthy ideology. Do I feel welcomed or discriminated against? Who is left out? What needs to be improved? We collectively reflected on a universal Berlin based on personal experience. The final product of the exercise was the creation of a fanzine -you can play around with its pages below:
"The first exercise was led by Filipa, and it started by her giving a short lecture related to her artistic practice and its relationship to walking. She mentioned a few other artists and scholars that have contributed to the subject, either with their writing or with their body of work in general. Some of them were Francesco Careri, Rebecca Solnit, Hamish Fulton, among others. Later, Filipa posed a few questions: “Have I ever questioned who I am here?”, “Where do I come from?”, “How does the city welcome me?”, “How does the city constrain me?”, “What can be changed and/or updated in the city?”. They were not to be answered immediately by all of us -just things to keep in mind while we were performing the second part of her exercise, which was to take a fifteen/twenty-minute walk around the neighborhood and maybe take a few notes of things we notice, or we feel like documenting while walking around and observing our environment.
I found myself expecting that I would be strolling in a very “Turkish” part of town, as Wedding is one of the places where the Turkish community is very present. Encountering a large, fenced area of small garden houses, most of them “marked” with a German flag, planted somewhere in their small courtyards, made me think that this area is way more “local” than I expected. I noticed that I thought a lot about “ugliness” too. It was mostly a residential area, with tall, square buildings with small windows and a lot of garbage or used things to give away just thrown on the sides of the street. I usually like that a lot• I find much comfort in “ugly” places, that do not try hard to impress you and demand your attention. I also like it when people leave things for other people to get for free on the streets of Berlin. But there was something about these things being mostly trash, or the snow and mud contributing to the picture, that did not allow me to experience my usual sense of joy about the abandoned goods on display. I also became aware of some stark contrasts around me: huge German words covering a whole side of an apartment building, advertising a restaurant located probably at the ground floor, and then many other smaller signs written in Arabic• German flags next to the small garden houses and LGBTQ+ flags hanging from some of the balconies of apartments in the smaller streets of the neighbourhood• Christmas decorations inside the windows of apartments in the ground floors of buildings I was passing by and signs of other religions on the doors of buildings that looked like mosques or synagogues. All in one, small neighborhood. I saw a homeless man walking a dog, and the dog puked in the snow covering the pavement. For some reason, I felt like that was something to make a note of.
When all of us returned from our short adventure, we took turns to talk about the experience, and we all acknowledged that just a simple gesture of someone posing a couple of inquiries to you about your experience of the city as a moving body in it, activates your thinking process in new, interesting ways. It widens your gaze. We each gave a short description of our experience and of the things that stuck out the most, related to the questions. Although each observation was of course personal and, therefore, unique, we all agreed that having these questions in mind while on our strolls, brought up reflections on our identities and cultural backgrounds that raised a conversation about a sense of “foreignness” that you carry with you always when being a migrant, and the small projections it causes you to make on things that are just there -static, inanimate, elements of the urban structure.
As the last part of the exercise, Filipa encouraged us to collaboratively make a fanzine. After showing us how to turn a large, white, A2 sheet into a small booklet with many pages, she instructed us to use several means (pencils, markers, pieces from newspapers to draw and make a small collage with) to fill in one or two A6 sheets, which would later be glued on the fanzine’s pages. Something about making a tangible, colorful object at the end of this exercise made me feel particularly excited about the workshop, and, in my humble opinion, our little fanzine looks amazing."