It’s always an interesting exercise to wonder what the world would look like today if past events had unfolded differently.
In Timur Vermes’ satirical novel Look Who’s Back, Adolf Hitler wakes up in present-day Berlin thinking the war has not yet ended; the Amazon series The Man in the High Castle, based on a novel by Philip K. Dick, played out how the world would be divided if the Nazis had won World War II.
Experimenting with alternative history, reinterpreting it and placing it in a current context — that is also what the Israeli artist Yael bartana has devoted herself to in the exhibition “Redemption Now,” currently on show at the Jewish Museum Berlin.
A key work is the video “Malka Germania,” in which the artist takes up the megalomaniac idea of the world capital Germania by Hitler’s architect Albert Speer.
bartana, who lives in Amsterdam and Berlin and whose father once told her never to set foot on German soil, is concerned with power, communities, utopia and gender roles. Her messiah figure Malka is androgynous.
“I feel there is a need for change in Germany, for a new vision for all the different minorities, including the Israelis living here,” Yael bartana argued in an interview on the museum’s website. Her protagonist Malka walks through a Berlin with street signs in Hebrew.
Promise of better times ahead
The figure of a savior is associated with a promise that times will get better, a phenomenon observed in many contexts — in the current pandemic as well as, for instance, concerning the election of leaders like Hitler or, much later, Donald Trump. “Leaders disappoint us very quickly,” says the artist.
The video series “And Europe will be stunned” processes Polish-Jewish history: How do political movements react to the return of millions of Jews to Poland?
The multimedia artist presented it at the Polish pavilion at the 2011 Venice Art Biennale. Reality and fiction are blurred In Yael bartana’s works. There has been confusion about whether the Jewish Renaissance Movement, the fictional movement that called for Jews to return to Poland, is real. The Jewish Museum has added information about how that came about.
What if women ruled the world?
The museum presents more than 50 of bartana’s early and more recent works, including video works, photographs, and light sculptures, grouped in seven sections. In “The Cycle of the end of the World” she looks at expectations of salvation, linking them to the mood of the end of time and the search for a Messiah in the Jewish tradition.
Whether redemption solves every problem is a question she asks in “The Study Room,” for which Yael bartana portrayed herself as, among others, the Austro-Hungarian publicist Theodor Herzl, asking, “What if Women Ruled the World?”
The exhibition “Redemption Now” will be on display in Berlin until October 10, 2021.
This article has been translated from German.