Spheres of interest*
ifa-Galerie Berlin (24.06.2022 – 18.09.2022)
Six artist were invited over two shows to reflect and do works related to the ifA (Institut for foreign exchange) art collection. The shows were curated by Inka Gressel and Susanne Weiß.
Lizza May David’s contribution to this exhibition is a collaboration with artist Gitte Villesen on Hannah Höch's (1889-1978) collage 'Mischling'. David put her photography THE UNKNOWN FILIPINA along with two other texts in parallel with Franz Klekawka paintings (1925-2001), which she selected from the collection. This collaboration highlights the historic idiosyncrasies and structures of the ifA art collection, and the issue of labor migration in Germany in particular.
One question I am often asked by people from Germany as well as from the Philippines is, "You're a 'Mischling' [half-breed], right?" In Filipino, "Mixed ka ba?". I often say "Yes" so that I don't need to tell my life story from the beginning. That usually satisfies people. But if I answer that both my parents are of Filipino descent and that I was born and went to primary school there, it triggers a whole slew of other questions.
There are also situations where none of that seems to be an issue. Due to my way of speaking, my appearance, and how I was socialised, I am sometimes accepted as "German", depending on the context. Racism doesn't exist in this context. White passing means that regardless of the fact that I identify as Non-white, I am read as White.
In these moments I have felt suspicion and jealousy from people from both countries. Either I have an "exotic bonus" or I'm told "Hindi sya Pilipina" (She's not even Filipina). In both scenarios, I don't seem to be "real" enough. In such situations I notice the boundary of "who are we" and "who is the other" being negotiated via my body. It bothers me.
Hannah Höch's "Mischling" touched that nerve. For this work Hannah Höch chose a woman's portrait, transformed and decontextualised it – all through the lens of her White gaze. There is a part of me that recognises myself in this collage, which shows a racialised woman with a White mouth pasted onto her face.
The unease that the collage "Mischling" triggers in me comes from its reproduction of racist stereotypes. In my conversation with Gitte Villesen and Susanne Weiß on the subject, I am reminded of my image-text work "The Unknown Filipina" (2012).
It consists of a photo of a woman taken by my stepfather Günter Eckart on the streets of Manila in 1971, and a text written by myself. I feel a sense of unease when I look at this photograph, just as I do when I look at Hannah Höch's collage, particularly because I don't know who the subject is and whether she even wanted to be photographed. Today I think the title shows my own structural discomfort about reproducing the "other".
I am reminded of the colonial photograph of another woman whose identity is unknown. It belongs to Cologne businessman Georg Küppers-Loosen's photography collection and it is housed in the Rautenstrauch-Joest-Museum, also in Cologne. Küppers-Loosen (1860-1910) travelled to the Philippines in 1906 and purchased the collection from US-American zoologist and government official Dean Conant Worcester. Worcester had been exploring the islands since 1887. The Philippines were a US-American colony from 1898-1946, making his ethnographic photographic research part of a colonial practice. It is problematic that the "zoological" categorisation of humans into specific types was not constructed until the photographs were taken. These imaginaries and the hierarchical movement to categorise humans into "wild" and "civilised" remain active to this day, structuring violent social realities.