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A Scene That’s Already There

By Elena Philipp

Culture despite the Crisis (Episode 9) - Naomi Odhiambo gives Black and PoC artists from Hamburg's independent scene more visibility in her Kampnagel residency

Naomi Odhiambo and her colleagues offer a space for experimentation within Hamburg’s independent scene. The Formation**Now Festival, which they will organize in Hamburg's Oberhafen for the third time in September 2021, is an example of this. "It's important to us to involve people who are active in Hamburg – artists who are already doing something and who come to our attention," Odhiambo tells us. "These artists are often working in off-spaces, yet don’t have a space from which they can reach a larger audience. We have the space, and instead of just producing new stuff, we ask them if they want to do something at the festival. In this way, we want to support the local scene’s potential and talent and provide opportunities for contact and interaction."

From small art spaces to large cultural institutions

Naomi Odhiambo knows the way from the small art spaces to the big cultural institutions herself: At the age of 14, she began acting in the Hamburg-based LuKuLuLe - an association for children, teenagers and young adults that offers theater and dance courses or writing workshops. "In director Mabel Preach's theater workshops, it was taken for granted that I was not the only black person in the group," Odhiambo recalls. "It was a given that people from diverse backgrounds were included in the plays and their development without having to explicitly name it. The story was in the foreground, the character development. It was always about what we were interested in. 'What do you want to say, which choreographers do you think are cool?' That's how I got into the art scene."

After school, Naomi Odhiambo became interested in the aesthetics at Berlin's HAU Hebbel am Ufer and the Maxim Gorki Theater and participated as a performer in projects by Moritz Sauer, Gob Squad and Janina Audick, Martina Bosse, Brigitte Cuvelier and Christine Groß. This hobby became her profession. "And that's when I noticed – not through the projects I was involved in, but the deeper I dived into the theater scene – that the way things had been for me before was not so normal, that my blackness was in the foreground and there was a lot of projection onto that," she says. "To be involved in theater, I felt like I couldn't just be a character on stage who was layered, complex, loving, interesting and individual, but I had to be one who told a story of resistance or pain. If white performers and actors always remain invisible or 'neutral,' while this is going on, that's a problem." Her thinking has become more socially critical and political as a result of these experiences, she said.

Stage situation. Three performers with microphones stand in front. One of them reads something from moderation cards. In the background, three more people sit in a semicircle. © Queer B-Cademy

Part of Hamburg's cultural scene

Together with the collective Formation**Now, of which she is a member, and in cooperation with the Deichtorhallen, Naomi Odhiambo curated "AwakenMiLove** Exhibition of the Un:Visible" in Hamburg's Oberhafen in 2019. The exhibition "Immer.wieder.widerStand" with eight Black artists, follows, in the Museum am Rothenbaum MARKK, the former ethnological museum. "Again, it goes without saying: what are the artistic practices that are happening in Hamburg right now that we find interesting and touch us? What reaches people on a different level that doesn't come from an academic point of view?" Entertainment and knowledge production belong together for Odhiambo and Formation**Now.

Formation**Now has been cooperating with Kampnagel since it was founded, and Mabel Preach has been showing her work at Hamburg's international production house for many years. Formation**Now has been offering one evening performance at the International Summer Festival since 2020. In addition, Naomi Odhiambo is involved in various other positions at Kampnagel, such as that of curating artist for Daniel Chelminiak's Queer B-Cademy, a four-day art event about intersectional perspectives and queer utopian futurist practice. She has also worked in audience outreach and public relations for the International Summer Festival and in public relations for the transcultural Krass Kultur Crash Festival.

As for many freelance artists, corona threatened to take away her earnings, which come from several sources. With the #TakeCareResidency she currently holds at Kampnagel, she can not only continue her curatorial practice, but also reflect on it in peace for the first time. "How can I put my work into words and what can it look like in the future? What can I learn from the last few years and how do I want capture that?" These are open-ended questions that she will explore during the residency until the end of 2021.

Research funds for artists and institutions

Kampnagel 2020/21 has announced a total of 95 #TakeCareResidencies, each endowed with 5,000 euros, financed with half a million euros from the German government and the Fonds Darstellende Künste’s Neustart Kultur program. As Kampnagel's artistic director Amelie Deuflhard and dramaturgs Uta Lambertz and Alina Buchberger report, the production house was able to allocate the funds to artists and collectives on its own terms.

Kampnagel conceived the residencies as a research opportunity – dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge on the part of the institution as well as the artistic communities with which Hamburg's international production house is connected. The goal was to support artists in strategically building up knowledge on topics on which the house was already working — "flight, migration, postcolonial issues, racism, inclusion, climate change," says Amelie Deuflhard.

The process by which funds were awarded was organized in a complex way. "We thought about who could create something relating to a particular topic," explains Alina Buchberger. "We made it possible for some artists with whom we have been working for a long time to dedicate themselves to a long-held artistic concern. Or they were already dealing with it anyway," says the dramaturg. "The residencies have also brought a massive number of new artistic points of view to Kampnagel," adds Uta Lambertz — via recommendations or research into viewpoints that had previously not been given enough of a voice. The dramaturgical team at Kampnagel devoted half a year to this.

The Kampnagel team believes that using institutions as "distribution stations" for funds is a good decision in terms of cultural policy. They noticed that some artists were not reached successfully by the aid programs. Uta Lambertz says, "To apply, artists needed to be registered at an address in Germany, they had to be a member of the artists' social insurance fund or provide comparable proof and thus also prove that they had a certain artistic income. Basically, those who would have needed emergency corona assistance the most were excluded." Amelie Deuflhard adds that young artists or artists just starting out in their careers, who often do not yet have membership of the artists' social insurance fund, also fell through the cracks. The Kampnagel director also questions the focus on academic training as proof of artistic qualification. "We know many artists who are very good and who have no artistic training – I don't see why we shouldn't support them. "

Solidarity in the spirit of the independent scene

As compensation, Kampnagel carried out individual consultations alongside artists' applications. The dramaturgs repeatedly consulted with the administrators at the Fonds Darstellende Künste, and the production house took advantage of the possibility of a supplementary residency. If five artists in the Neustart Kultur program applied together for a #TakeCareResidency, it was possible to co-finance an additional person without having to provide the necessary proof. A solidarity-based arrangement that corresponds to the collective spirit of the independent scene.

Disseminators like Naomi Odhiambo played a central role in this decentralized distribution. Connected to artists in the Hanseatic city as well as throughout Germany, the curator and performer reaches Black people who are only sporadically connected to the major cultural institutions. "Under the label Formation**Now, we want to implement visionary concepts and create spaces in which we, as Black artists, have creative freedom, spaces in which we want to exist in the future. A scene that is already there now needs to get some money - and structure." Their focus is on creating event formats, platforms and, above all, networking opportunities for Black artists and artists of color.

Naomi Odhiambo's approach goes beyond cultural and political justice. "How do you solve certain hierarchies?" she wonders. "Cultural institutions are often eager to work with artists from universities who know how to navigate structures, get projects funded and give art relevance by translating it into academic language. Others produce anyway - and I get to see it because I'm in their spaces, — the ‘urban scene’," Odhiambo explains. "We are interested in aesthetics that are already there but are dormant, in off-spaces. We want to bring them into cultural institutions and also highlight a narrative that is ubiquitous in Hamburg but not yet visible in certain institutions."

As part of her #TakeCareResidency, Naomi Odhiambo interviews Black artists from the Hanseatic city's independent scene about their art and their careers. "Hamburg has one of the largest Black communities in Germany," says Odhiambo. "I feel like writing something down about the artists I keep inviting." Perhaps an artistic database could be created that program officers at other cultural institutions could use for their research? "It would be great if that happened," Odhiambo says. In any case, the results will flow into her own work – and thus also have an impact on Kampnagel. "My point of view will be included at Kampnagel because I work with the people there. In practice, everything that I'm now putting into words is already taking place. I will embed the artists involved in the events with Formation**Now in my research." Practice becomes reflection and then practice again: there is room for this in Naomi Odhiambo's residency, which opens up new spaces for her and others.

In the series "Kunst trotz(t) Krise" (Culture despite the Crisis), cultural journalists Elena Philipp and Georg Kasch take a look behind the scenes of funded projects on behalf of the Fonds Darstellende Künste. What is the impact of the fund's #TakeThat funding as part of the NEUSTART KULTUR program of the Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media?