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Culture

Provocative, Critical and Hard-hitting

Visitors to this year’s Documenta in Kassel will encounter art from all corners of the world. Director Enwezor has veered away from Western-dominated contemporary art to global works expressing socio-political themes.

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The African continent is a theme in several works and not just by African artists

This year’s Documenta 11 might be touting its international profile, but what awaits visitors is by no means just a colourful exotic show documenting the diversity of the continents.

Director Okwui Enwezor has made sure that the art on offer has a distinct socio-political character thereby raising the expectations of visitors.

One thing is sure – the Documenta 11 will not just be a mere guide to predominantly western-oriented contemporary art.

Art that criticises and provokes

By striking a clear socio-political tone, Director Enwezor has also evoked memories of one of the most influential Documenta festivals, namely Documenta 5 from 1972 that questioned the isolation of art from society and politics.

At that time politically involved artists protested against militarism and torture and the provocative motto of the artist Ben Vautier was paraded on the spire of the Fridericianum museum, "art is superfluous". Prominent artists such as Joseph Beuys and Bruce Naumann helped the Documenta 5 achieve a breakthrough.

Giving voice to social ills and injustices

This year it’s artists such as Chilean-born Alfredo Jaar who are carrying a message of social woes, turmoil and political upheaval. The tone is angry, critical and often brutal.

Jaar’s exhibit – which deals with genocide in Rwanda and the situation of Mexican refugees on the border between Mexico and the US - ends with blinding light projected on a wall after darkened hallways, a comment on how society is engulfed in imagery.

New York artist Lorna Simpson deals with racial discrimination, the black film artist Isaac Julien with the Black movement in Britain and the American Allan Sekula takes on globalisation and capitalism.

The Iranian photo artist Shirin Neshat grapples with the theme of gender discrimination in her country as well as the prejudices of the Western world against Islamic society.

Not just an Africa stooge

Though the Nigerian-born Director of this year’s Documenta, Okwui Enwezor has made it clear that he is not just interested in promoting Africa, several artists – not just Africans – have focussed on the fate of the dark continent.

Belgian Luc Tuymans lingers on the colonial history of Congo, while Georges Adeagboin follows the trail of his home country of Benin and documentary film-maker Jean-Marie Teno that of Cameroon. Photographer Santu Mofokeng from South Africa dwells on the image of the blacks in public life.

One of the largest exhibits is devoted to the plight of the Palestinians and much of it resembles an information stand. Some photographs document poverty and other social ills.

One of the most controversial works is Austrian artist Robert Jelinek’s idea to plant 70,000 cannabis plants in the city’s many parks, flower beds and traffic islands. He plans a quiet start to the weekend as police have already warned him.

Breaking with tradition and convention

At a sneak preview to the press on Thursday, Director Okwui Enwzor explained to Reuters, "We have tried to elaborate on the complexities of the relationships between a number of cultural spaces, without which we cannot really make an exhibition of global import. The attitude of the artist has to be one that embraces the entire complexities of the world, that is to say political, cultural, social and aesthetic parameters."

This time the socio-political message is expressed not just through traditional oil and canvas and sculpture, but also through video and film installations, photography and other forms. It has prompted critics to say that the Documenta is more like a film festival than a showcase for the art world’s avant-garde.

But whether through traditional or modern or high-technological means, Director Enwezor has already managed with the four discussion platforms in the run up to the Documenta 11, to shift attention to the social framework of artistic productions that don’t come from the Western world.

Art critics hope that it might provide the established arts scene with new impulses.

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