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Exhibit Takes German Terror Stain Public

DW Staff (nda)January 29, 2005

A controversial exhibition based on the life and times of the Red Army Faction, Germany's own notorious terror group, opens in Berlin on Saturday in the face of continuing opposition.

RAF announced its breakup in 1998Image: dpa

One of Germany's most controversial post-war episodes returns to the fore as the subject of a major exhibition on Saturday when the "Regarding Terror: The RAF Exhibition" opens at the KW Institute for Contemporary Art in Berlin.

The controversial show depicts the life and times of the Red Army Faction (RAF), Germany's notorious leftist guerrilla movement, through the work of a number of contemporary international and German artists working in various mediums.

The story of the RAF is one of the major blemishes on the years of Germany's economic miracle. The RAF came to prominence during the most affluent years of the West German recovery in the late 1960s. Born out of the student protest movement in the 1960s, the RAF emerged from the Baader-Meinhof Gang, founded by Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof.

Violence in the name of class struggle

The organization, based around Baader's hardcore group, was a network of cells commited to violence in the service of the class struggle. It attacked not just Germany's rich and powerful, but also US military installations which through the group's obscure mix of Marxist and Maoist ideology it saw as emblems of American imperialism.

Kartstadt, Frankfurt, 1968
The RAF began their campaign with bomb attacks on German department stores.Image: AP

By pooling the resources from its web of activists and supporters which provided logistic and propaganda support, the RAF carried out a number of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and robberies throughout the 60s and 70s in terrorist actions they claimed were by disgust with what they saw as the mindless materialism and fascist tendencies of German society.

Even after the originators of the movement had been killed or arrested, the RAF continued sporadic operations throughout the 1980s and early 1990s before officially disbanding in 1998.

Current climate proved problematic for project

In the current climate of worldwide condemnation for international terror, an exhibition dedicated to showing works of art based on a group which attempted to achieve its aim through the bomb and the gun has caused problems for the KW Institute of Contemporary Art.

When plans for the exhibition were revealed, its future was immediately thrown into doubt by the vocal opposition the proposed project was receiving from on high. Many German politicians complained vehemently that the exhibition would glorify Germany's homegrown terror group.

"The exhibition should be cancelled without any ifs or buts," the oppostion Christian Democratic Union's Laurenz Meyer announced when the plans first came to light in 2003. He said at the time that it the RAF was not about "ideals, but about terror and the murder of innocents."

His party colleague, Rupert Scholz, condemned the exhibition in even sharper tones.

"An exhibition like the one apparently initiated here is absolutely unacceptable. In reality, it is a scandal," he told a radio station at the time.

Klaus Biesenbach
Klaus BiesenbachImage: KW-Berlin e.V

Such was the furor that Klaus Biesenbach, founder and former director of the institute, withdrew an application for €100,000 ($133,000) worth of state funding. With it went the prospect of realizing this particular project sooner rather than later, but Biesenbach was not about to scratch it from the canvas altogether.

Despite leaving the KW Institute for the Museum of Modern Art in New York last year, Biesenbach's vision of raising the €350,000 needed to stage the show without state assistance lived on.

Internet art auction raised funds

Mädchen in Maske
US artist Doug Aitken's "Girl in mask (2002)" was one of the works of art auctioned on eBay.Image: Doug Aitken

Under the guidance of the project's new curators, Ellen Blumenstein and playwright Felix Ensslin, the son of RAF terrorist Gudrun Ensslin, 14 renowned artists, including Doug Aitken, Monica Bonvicini, Jane and Louise Wilson and Saatchi favorites Dinos and Jake Chapman auctioned pieces of work on eBay and donated the proceeds to the artistic cause.

Along with philanthropic donations from the Netherlands and Switzerland, the KW Institute achieved its goal of financing the RAF-related works of some 40 different artists, including Jörg Immendorff, Gerhard Richter, Scott King, Joseph Beuys and Sue de Beer.

Former minister criticizes modern apathy

The exhibition has received some unusual patronage in the form of Gerhart Baum, a former German interior minister and member of Germany's neoliberal Free Democratic Party. Baum, who held office between 1978 and 1982, said he believes that " Regarding Terror: The RAF Exhibition" is an important event that has been misunderstood.

Baum said the era which gave birth to the RAF was one where the public was more aware of the social issues and problems that gave rise to armed struggle. In the years that followed, according to Baum, people have become apathetic to such problems and have stopped questioning their causes.

Exhibit provokes thought, claims Baum

As such, events like the Sept. 11 attacks have surprised people and although measures are being taken to combat terrorism, Baum said that governments are just reacting without looking deeper at the underlying causes, something he thinks the exhibition is attempting to promote.

"No one in their right mind would glorify the RAF," Baum told reporters. "The politicians haven't gone to the trouble of looking deeper at what the exhibition can tell us."