Guilt and Debts

Guilt and Debts is a forum for discussions about identity politics and decolonisation.

“The Royal Complex / Fate or the Benin Plaques“, Detail of „On the Revision of a Glass Showcase from the Permanent Exhibition ‚Art from Africa‘ in the Ethnological Museum in Dahlem, Berlin (05/31/2013)“, 2013/2014.copyright: VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2022, courtesy: the artist, Photo: Dierk Schmidt.

The understanding of power relations as gendered, racialised and/or sexualised generates great dissent in public debate, often resulting in polarisation or even ‘cultural war’. These issues and the way we tackle them have consequences for how institutions, media and public act, and for what it means to be represented as a human being.

In this context, ‘guilt’ and ‘debts’ mean that an historical injustice has left an aftermath. Though the injustice cannot be rectified, it must be acknowledged, if we are to make room for other bodies, see and feel the other, and find the ability to change together with others. We owe it to ourselves – all of us – to discuss art and activism, language and community, and how we can reimagine the historical space.

The programme Guilt and Debts is based on Combahee River Collective’s 1977 definition of ‘identity politics’ as an activist strategy with the aim of creating coalitions crosses socialism and feminism with the struggle for the rights of coloured and queer people. Regarding decolonisation, the semiotician Walter Mignolo suggests that we should regard it as ‘geo- and body-politics’ that can create other forms of knowledge on the basis of racially-aware, bodily and contextual behaviour.

Guilt and Debts will involve talks, workshops, research programmes and seminars, which will investigate a number of different voices and views.


The title of the programme is borrowed from the German artist Dierk Schmidt’s exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid – Culpa y deudas (2018), for which Schmidt had appropriated the title of the first German translation of Dostoevsky’s novel Crime and Punishment (1866) – Schuld und Sühne.

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