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Culture

Africa "Adopts" Lonely European Adults

For lonely, unattached Europeans looking for human warmth yet little commitment, Gudrun F. Widlok has the solution: The German artist arranges their symbolic adoption by families in Third World countries.

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This young man has found his "new" mother in Africa

It all started with an inconspicuous leaflet in her letter box. Ten pairs of love-hungry eyes stared at her from the centre-fold. The leaflet was from a charity organization calling for Europeans to sponsor a child in a Third World country. Gudrun F. Widlok, feeling a little melancholy herself, stuck a photo of herself next to those of the children. And had an idea: Why not find people in Third World countries to adopt lonely, melancholy city dwellers like herself?

Five years later, in her light-flooded kitchen in Berlin, Gudrun F. Widlok runs her fingers through a large pile of photos and starts spreading them out on the table. Pictures of pale, tired-looking young Europeans, taken in their flats, offices, or out on the street mingle with photos of proud-looking, erect Africans, standing in colourful robes next to green palms, their faces glowing in strong African sun. Two worlds which couldn't be further apart. Two worlds between which Widlok wants to build a bridge.

Kunstprojekt ADOPTED von Gudrun f. Widlok, einsame Europäer suchen die Geborgenheit einer Familie in der Dritten Welt wie in Afrika

Gudrun F. Widlok

Gudrun F. Widlok (photo) organizes the adoption of unattached Europeans by families in the Third World. Europeans who like her, have gone their individual ways, see their families only once every few months and often, especially on a dull winter's evening, yearn for a breath of comforting, family warmth. Adopted by people who may be lacking in riches and western wealth but not in family ties and simple joy. The adoption is merely symbolic, the project not about materialistic but pure emotional exchange. "Many people wish for company but at the same time want to stay unattached and uncommitted. Which is why I help them find a new, symbolic family in countries where this kind of family life still exists".

African warmth vs. Berlin gloom

One of these countries is Africa. Widlok has always been fascinated by life on the African continent. Many of her travels have led her to Africa's bustling cities, sandy deserts and windy plains and the continent turns up repeatedly in her artistic work. For her current adoption project, called "Adopted", Widlok took to Africa to look for potential godparents for her European counterparts at home. Laden with portraits of adoption candidates, and with the help of an African contact, she opened up her first mobile office in Africa in Burkina Faso. It was an experience she will never forget: "Not only were the Africans both curious and fascinated by the candidates", she says, eyes shining. "They were so warm-hearted, too".

During her trip, Widlok managed to find families for 30 adoption candidates. People like Martin, 37, photographer from Berlin. Julia, 29, actress from Cologne. Or Franciso, 49, Professor from Zaragoza, Spain. His "new" father is called Ousmane Sawadogo, is 41 and works and lives as a banker in the capital of Burkina Faso, Ouagadougo. On the photo that Widlok has taken of him he grins broadly, a friendly, but also proud, smile. In the register form that Widlok hands out to everyone who wants to take part, he has written "I want to be there for other people".

In the pile of photos on Widlok's kitchen table, Francisco and Sawadogo's photos now lie together. Two worlds, west and east, black and white, red sand and Berlin gloom, pinned together to form one. Whether they will make contact, write or speak, or even one day visit each other, Widlok cannot say. "When the arrangement is done then that's the end of my part. But I am definitely curious", she says with a grin.

Difficult to believe

Sometimes, when Gudrun F. Widlok sifts through her photos, reads the newspaper clippings or simply recalls the many people and places she has encountered through "Adopted", she still finds it all difficult to believe. What started off originally as a purely fictitious art project has taken on realistic dimensions way beyond her imaginations. For months, friends and visitors to exhibitions where she first presented "Adopted" beleaguered her to really try out her idea. Today, "Adopted" is already more fact than fiction and as the yearning for security and warmth appears to be growing, so is the number of applicants, too. And what about the artist herself - does she not yearn for the security of family life, too? Widlok laughs. "When I was in Burkina Faso everyone immediately made me feel part of their family. In a way, I have been adopted several times".

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