When we think of foreign powers in the Middle East, we often think of France, England or the United States. For their second exhibition at The Third Line, Made in Germany, Slavs and Tatars look to the unlikely story of German Orientalism and what it can tell us about Europe’s contemporary relationship to Islam.
On the 8th of November 1898, during a visit to Damascus, Kaiser Wilhelm II raised a toast to the Ottoman Sultan and pledged his friendship and the friendship of Germany to 300 million Muslims. In the early months of the First World War, Germany helped convinced Sultan Mehmed Reshad V to declare jihad on 11 November 1914, part of a strategy to “set the East aflame.” Though global, this jihad was entirely partial: against enemy infidels (France, England, Russia) but on the side of other infidels (Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire).
The publication of a propaganda newspaper called El-Dschihad in Urdu, Russian, Arabic, Tatar, and Georgian was perhaps the most curious piece of this pie. Intended to stoke anti-imperial sentiment in territories belonging to the Entente Powers, El-Dschihad was aimed at Muslim POWs held at a camp in Wünsdorf, outside Berlin, who would, ostensibly, return to the front on the side of Germany and the Ottomans or to their homelands in an effort to spread their new liberationist message. Today, on the same grounds of the camp stands one of the largest refugee centers in Europe.
Presented for the first time since their exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof for the 2015 German Nationalgalerie Preis, Reverse Dschihad speaks to the mishaps of Germany’s late arrival to empire: in each language of the original, the mirror offers a distorted reflection of oneself. A set of prayer-beads, PraySway offers visitors the opportunity to swing between the two, often distant, poles of sacred and profane activity that are at the heart of Orientalism.
Two new works from the artists’ signature Tranny Tease series, exploring the pitfalls of transliteration, further address the story of German orientalism. In Dschihad, “dschunglefieber”, “Dschidda”, and “dschamaa” show the awkward onslaught of four consecutive consonants–DSCH–to approximate the [d͡z] phoneme in German, marking these ideas and words as irrevocably foreign or other.
The renowned mark of quality, Made in Germany, is spelled out phonetically using Arabic letters, a military alphabet proposed by the Ottoman minister of war, Enver Pasha for wartime correspondence. The English used the moniker to mock Germany’s behind-the-scenes role in the declaration of jihad or holy war, by an Ottoman Sultan, whom few Muslims looked to for spiritual guidance.
A rare, original copy of the publication will be presented for the run of the exhibition.
To mark their tenth year of practice, Slavs and Tatars will present a mid-career retrospective at three institutions: CCA Ujazdowski, Warsaw; CAC Vilnius, and Salt, Istanbul.