Who is old when and where? "Grey is the New Pink," a multimedia exhibition in Frankfurt, seeks to answer the question. DW talked to the curator.
DW: People get older, that's a fact. Why do people need to see an exhibition on the subject?
Alice Pawlik: From a biological point of view, ageing is the same all over the world, but every generation in every culture ages differently. Desires and needs change. Medical, technological and cultural aspects add to the fact that growing old is different in different cultures. Mainly, it's about how society sees old age.
Have you found a society where people age particularly well?
No, and I wasn't out to find it. The exhibition isn't aimed at presenting any one region or society as ideal. After all, the subtitle is "moments of ageing." It's not about finding definitions or explanations but about showing the diversity.
Why is the Cultures of the World Museum the right venue?
Our museum has a collection from regions all over the world. Ethnologists always try to initiate a back-and-forth between the "other" and oneself. We want to present as many perspectives to our visitors as possible.
The title is reminiscent of a popular series on Netflix. Does an exhibition need a sensationalistic title?
I don't feel it's sensationalistic. We wanted to point out a change of perspective, that it's about something you don't see at first glance.
What's the concept of this exhibition?
You see an interaction of various moments and positions. We felt it was important not to just accentuate one position, be it artistic or scientific. So we also appealed to people worldwide to send us pictures of ageing: photos, drawings, short mobile phone films. We asked them for a visual answer to the question: How do you see old age?
Did you reach people via social media?
We sent out our request to more than 5,000 addresses. In the end, 350 people participated. They had three months, from January to March this year. We chose 165 contributions that we added to photos from the visual anthropology archives to create a major installation that's a central part of the exhibition.
There are multiple perspectives. For one thing, artists present their view of the various topics. Then, for example, there is Lars Krutaks, a US anthropologist who focused on tattoos. He travels around the world and takes impressive photos.
We also cooperated with young students who developed medical design prototypes of products that might be useful in aiding the elderly in the future.
You also included the topic of fairy tales. What do fairy tales have to do with growing old?
Usually, older folks read to children, which is also how they pass on knowledge. Today, the digital world plays a large role. How does it affect the transfer of knowledge if we can also Google and Wikipedia too? How does that affect the older generation's authority?
Sometimes older people will read stories to children from tablets rather than books. Many older people also use the social media. Respect for the elderly is perhaps expressed today through likes, clicks and followers.
What's the target audience?
That's easy: everyone. One out of four kids born in Germany today will live to be over 100 years old. At least that's the prediction. Society should really bear that in mind and prepare for the scenario on a social and political level, but also on a cultural level. That's why this exhibition is really meant for everyone.
Alice Pawlik is the ethnologist and curator responsible for the exhibition "Grey is the New Pink" on old age and ageing at Frankfurt's Museum of World Cultures (October 26 2018 to September 1, 2019). Pawlik heads the museum's visual anthropology section.
Interview: Sabine Peschel