Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung is a busy man. The director of Berlin cultural centre SAVVY Contemporary, he was recently appointed curator at large for 2017’s documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel, and tonight he’s preparing for an opening at his second exhibition space in the German capital, Galerie Wedding. On top of this, the 39-year-old curator from Cameroon also has another career as a biotechnologist – a field in which he gained a PhD after moving to Berlin in 1997.
Despite his responsibilities, Ndikung isn’t fazed. In fact, this evening he’s dapper and composed, if tight-lipped about next year’s festival. “We’re trying to go beyond the concept of ‘Europe’ and see what is happening elsewhere,” he says. “But I won’t be going too far from what I’ve been doing at Savvy for the past 6 years.”
Ndikung is critiquing Berlin’s much-vaunted internationality
“When we talk about colonial power, the mechanisms that were put in place during the onset of the colonial enterprise are still the same today, they just take different forms – such as gender, economics, politics and race” – Ndikung
As its website notes, Savvy was founded “as a stage whereby ‘Western art’ and ‘non-Western art’ can communicate and exchange on a par with one another”. It does so by exhibiting work by artists from Africa, South America, Asia and Australia face-to-face with those from European and North America. In doing so, Ndikung critiquing Berlin’s much-vaunted internationality, and how non-Western art is still presented mainly as an exotic cliché.
“When we talk about colonial power, the mechanisms that were put in place during the onset of the colonial enterprise are still the same today, they just take different forms – such as gender, economics, politics and race,” he says. “And they create structures for accumulating power, like museums. We need to look at the ways in which history, culture and society are entangled.”
Central to this is the role of the artist. Although fat white men still basically run the world, art has the ability to subvert the sort of power that arranges museums and manages multinationals. In the hands of a filmmaker, for example, a Donald Trump rant could become a self-reflexive criticism of Islamophobia, or maybe even just a meditation on his terrible haircut. The possibilities are limitless, and thanks to spaces like Savvy and Galerie Wedding, open to a wider demographic.
However, while Ndikung is taking aim at the establishment, he’s not really into bloody uprising. Instead, he’s more attuned to the idea of aesthetic revolution touted by the German Romantic poet Heinrich Heine, who wanted people to transform the world by changing their perception of it rather than by killing each other. “Heine spoke about Germany and poetry and art as a prism, and I’m also interested in how the materials artists use change the way people perceive the ‘refractions’ in their works,” he says. “For example, in Kader Attia’s video “Oil and Sugar”, a block of sugar cubes crumble as oil flows onto them. It’s extremely poetic, and could also be read as a reflection on the fuels that colonialism runs on, and where they come from.”