Green light – An artistic workshop
Shared Learning | Inscribing Meaning, with Sammy Baloji


Sammy had set out to work with and through the participants’ individual narratives and to create sculptures or images that would represent the emotional or cultural amplitude of their very personal account. This was to give them back their voices as individuals in times where refugees and asylum seekers are commonly treated as one homogeneous body that only gets further individualized by rationalistic signifiers like legal statuses, countries of origin, and classifying numbers.

Sammy started off by presenting his artistic work – less so as to present himself as artist, but more so as to use it as a lens through which to investigate issues like migration, the constructedness of official historical narratives, racism, slavery, and dispossession. He talked about his cultural origin in the resource-rich province of Katanga in Kongo whose cultural and financial development reflects the destructive impact of colonialism (and necrocapitalism [1] today). One could see that all of he participants partaking in Sammy’s workshop could relate to his account, not least since all of them come from Subsaharan African countries, so there is a common ground on which all could relate on. 

Continuing with the presentation of traditional patterns on raffia mats and fabrics from the 15th century (which Sammy had discovered in the Smithsonian Institute) and images of traditional scarifications, he significantly undermined the authority of scientific innovations and (modern) art history in the West and reminded of the shared nature of our all histories. He emphasised the fact that contemporary and allegedly genius inventions by the West (e.g. the computer) are to be traced back to far earlier explorations and ideas in other, in this case African cultures. 


He finished his presentation by addressing the participants very explicitly and to remind them of something, that they essentially can forget: that they all have the right to be treated as humans, to live, to be happy and that they shouldn’t have to ask for permission for this; that they should learn the Italian language and try to find a job. 

In the afternoon, Sammy encouraged them to find a symbol or a sign and to collectively create a sculpture that could represent their personal narratives. Together, they emanated from patterns incorporated in the textiles in the auditorium and tried to translate it into a sculpture. Ibrahim for instance, preferred to work on the flip chart and drew quite impressive patterns from his memory.

Personally, the essence of Sammy’s workshop – the fact that we ALL are interconnected and part of the same phenomenon called nature – together with his account of the cross-cultural and cross-historical continuity of patterns, ideas, and innovations, and the subsequent unveiling of Western power structures as unjustifiable constructions by capitalist authorities, reminded me of a passage from Galeano’s Mirrors:

"On his deathbed, Copernicus published the book that founded modern astronomy. Three centuries before, Arab scientists Mu’ayyad al-Din al-’Urdi and Nasir al-Din Tusi had come up with the theorems crucial to that development. Copernicus used their theorems but did not cite the source.
Europe looked in the mirror and saw the world.
Beyond that lay nothing.The three inventions that made the Renaissance possible, the compass, gunpowder, and the printing press, came from China. The Babylonians scooped Pythagoras by fifteen hundred years. Long before anyone else, the Indians knew the world was round and had calculated its age. And better than anyone else, the Mayans knew the stars, eyes of the night, and the mysteries of time. Such details were not worthy of Europe’s attention."


by Frederike Sperling, Assistant Curator TBA21