by Savanna Fortgang
Hi, Savanna, my name is Antonia Alampi. I am a Southern Italian, Berlin based curator and art historian who has worked in a series of different institutions. Places ranging from working in Beirut, in Cairo, and in Berlin initially at Savvy Contemporary. I am currently the artistic and executive director of, Spore Initiative in Neukolln. I’ve always been working in institutions that saw art and artistic practice as a means of engaging with societal issues or concerns. Representing spaces where certain conversations, thoughts, even artistic forms are presented that maybe would not be able to be presented, otherwise. I do like to mention that I’m also a mother, which is something that I think has greatly influenced my professional practice. I work for institutions that engage with multi-generational programs. I believe it is fundamental to engage and involve children, especially when we think and work in the field of art, culture, or practice. Children are the future, and we must include them in the conversation. It takes a village to raise a child, as they say. This idea of embracing and celebrating community life, that is not just based on blood or direct family relations, but this standard notion of family, this possibility of being together without just being divided into categorizations or age groups, has influenced my professional practice so far.
Thanks so much for the introduction Antonia!! It seems as if the spaces you work with all have a similar morality and mission. Can you please expand on this?
Looking at what stays outside of the frame, what stays unsaid but not dramaticized is really important in the spaces I’ve been working with. I don’t think it’s necessarily the act of preaching your actions , there’s something about how the notion of Diversity is being capitalized on and I think also embodied in which is not always necessarily good in some institutions. I think it’s really important to talk about it. But, I’m coming from organizations that weren’t even thinking about promoting it, they were just doing it. They were embodying it from the very beginning. A place like Savvy Contemporary, where I used to work, was born to really try to bring and embody diversity in Berlin. Specifically, Savvy was bringing in epistemologies that had always been relegated to ethnographic museums. That doesn’t mean just having an artist coming from here or there. That means trying to look at how you do exhibition making, how you understand the public programs, how you think about language from different perspectives. And that’s never just talking heads.
I would love for you to expand on this notion of institutions capitalizing on promoting diversity. How could places do it better?
I’ll give you 2 anecdotes that I think are relevant to what you’re saying, but also were quite important for the way we made our space as well. One was when I was still working at Savvy and curating a project called Geographies of Imagination. A major part of that project was about imaginary places and the construction of them in pop Culture, literature, etcetera. We interviewed a number of so-called diversity consultants that were trying to work in institutions that were trying to address the issue of diversity. And there was something really interesting that they were saying. They said the problem is we are focusing on what already is considered a valuable experience or not.
Particular universities, museums, jobs, and experiences (that tend to be attached to money) are put on a hierarchical scale. No matter where people are coming from, it’s always the same profiles that will advance. So it becomes a self perpetuating problem, where class and access are defining factors of success which are never talked about enough. Who has access to what and how does that play into social hierarchy. As we know, liquidity makes the world much smaller.
How about your current workplace, Spore Initiative?
So also when we were thinking about our team, we work with people that were socialized in different contexts and had really different working experiences which was very important. For example, there’s only one person that came from working at a museum (before working for Spore). We were looking at what experiences actually have a value and what is seen as knowledge and what counts as knowledge (outside of the stereotype of hiring people coming from success in proper art institutions). Thats what makes the Spore Initiative really special, the diversity in not just cultures, but also life experience. A team of people that all meet at the same table and speak different languages, with different groundings, and different wordings, which is actually quite a challenge in a team, but ultimately a strength. Language is power.
What was the second anecdote ?
The second anecdote is also in a program that I shared with Savvy. It was a program focusing on environmental injustice ans ways in which the West metaphorically externalizes its waste. We had a panel discussion with various groups one of which was Extinction Rebellion, which is this very famous group that has been attacked for being very white and really using that which was a strategy- using white privilege as a way of protecting other bodies (as an example, white people being arrested knowing that there will be likely very little consequences.) Alongside the Extinction Rebellion, we had many different activist groups which were much more diverse and intersectional. At some point, Extinction Rebellion, was put in the hotspot, and the group asked, “How should we diversify ourselves?” The response to this question was brilliant. “Maybe it’s not about you diversifying yourself. Maybe it’s about recognizing there are diverse groups already. You don’t have to come up with them, instead use your privilege to stand behind them.” You don’t need to be in the foreground. Don’t be in the fucking front line. Yeah. Be in the back instead, and let others speak. Those groups are there already, they already exist, so help amplify their voices, rather than speak for them. I think that is that was such a fundamental lesson.
How do you think you embody that lesson at Spore Initiative?
In exhibitions for example, instead of calling ourselves ‘curators’ (a standard in the art world), we call ourselves facilitators. We are trying to understand our work as standing behind the ones that are at the forefront of environmental protection. That’s not us. We are not the ones doing that work, we are not the artists. We are the ones giving them the space and the platform to amplify their stories. We open our space to communities. We basically offer space and then become caring interlocutors. The communities we work with have more or less self determination of how they want to share their program/art. Instead of curating that experience, we want to facilitate how to make it happen. So in the end, our team recognizes the Spore Initiative is still a space of white privilege. We work with so many people coming from different places, so how can we offer a space, yet be in the back? How can you not be speaking for but be the ones walking alongside or even walking behind? That’s more or less I think what really has been sort of the leading guiding principle which obviously is easier said than done. And we have to constantly remember that the process comes with constant negotiation.
I really love the difference between curators and facilitators. I struggle with this in my own career in the arts and working with curators. How do you think the art world’s relationship with representing diversity is, in Berlin?
I think there are lots of different scenes in the art world and I’m not sure they’re all interconnecting, which I feel is also really important. The fact that there are different legitimate art scenes, is a strong suit in Berlin (not the rest of Germany). I still think there is big discrimination in the city. And I mean, the current situation with Palestine and Israel has only heightened that. I think it’s in a very problematic situation which is becoming more and more divided- very black and white. If you look at fine art institutions, most people that have contracts and high salaries are white people, and there’s still a very high male presence in these positions. I think also when you look at the status of an artist, which artists have an actual permanent visa in the country or in an academy? Who has permanent incomes, with the visa privilege to work those jobs? This matters the most because this will determine the people that stay. People that can afford to stay here. It’s really hard for non-Germans to actually get a job. Many artists struggle with having a freelancer visa, which limits the work you can acquire. They are all temporary opportunities, not long term work contracts. Immigrants can get long term visas, but it is very difficult.
Do you think that current genocide happening in Palestine (and many different places in the world) is going to hurt Berlins diversity in the art scene?
It could go in both directions. I mean, I think there’s a lot of people that are doing a lot of work behind the scenes. Communities getting together and protesting on a larger and smaller scale. Artists and the broader communities organizing to fight the system is a very good thing. The current protests and strikes are important because that pressures the government and the funding lines. This is beyond the control of art curators and directors, even though it is still important for the art world to engage in their independent and collective activism.
Do you think this is helping the art world in Berlin come together?
Yeah. The tumultuous action of so many groups, be it artists, cultural practitioners, theaters getting together, art collectives, art institutions, etc all coming together to mobilize will have an impact!
What is the Spore Initiative doing to mobilize during these times?
We are very privileged with the space that we offer. So we are using it to give people a platform. For example, I think we may be the only space that has had a Palestinian speaker present right now that hasn’t been canceled. We just opened our programs for 2024 on Thursday with Anania Shibley who’s a Palestinian writer who was canceled at the Frankfurt Fair last year, and an incredible Ethiopian writer named Maza Mengiste. The two of them spoke here together and we had more than 500 people here. The seats were filled, people were sitting on the floor, unable to even see the screen, but still listening. The energy was palpable. And not having to be in the foreground and having to lead it, but instead having the ability to give the space for other people to use as a platform. I mean, we’ve had Palestinian poetry readings. We’ve had Kurdish, Armenian and Palestinian community kitchens and dancing together we will have later in the month Leftist, Jewish, Israeli progressives. Community is at the forefront of this planet’s diversity and the most affected are indigenous people which are the ones that historically are the most oppressed. That, again, is very tied into society’s hierarchy of knowledge and what is actually seen as knowledge. What voices are amplified versus what voices are repressed. Spore Initiative wants to provide space for all walks of life to present – because there clearly is a lot of space missing at the moment. Safe space. That’s the job for cultural institutions to provide.
Providing space for harder conversations is very important but must be difficult, have you done anything to make those moments easier?
Safe space also means providing support. These events are monitored. We make sure to have awareness teams available and people that know how to deal with people potentially feeling discomfort, being triggered by something. We try to provide the tools for people to feel comfortable. Because when we invite speakers to present, we give them the freedom of speech rather than censor every last detail of what they are going to say. In order to do that, we must provide teams available and people that know how to deal with people potentially feeling discomfort, being triggered by something, and so on. So what we call awareness teams.
LAST QUESTION: What do you think artists, journalists and climate change activists need the most at the moment?
I think that’s a big question. I mean, I would say I’m not sure they all need the same thing. We’re actually trying to work directly with the communities that are actually preserving diversity. We produce specific cultural tools with them. Each community as well as individual is different. There is no rhyme and rhythm. There is no magic trick to help everyone. Very different groups also just need very different things. I don’t think what’s at stake is the same in a place like Lebanon as it is in a place like the UK or the Germans. Right? Solidarity networks and international alliances are super fundamental. We all need to be listened to, but also not to be just responded with. That can be patronizing. We need actual actions, so yes artists and activists need to put in work and mobilize together, not just on a local level but also on an international level. But, ultimately the real thing we all need is change in policy, especially changing policy that takes into consideration this change making process. The younger generations are so incredibly much more organized, increasingly more connected, thanks to the internet. The internet and social media has helped really try to focus on what brings us together and what can be exchanged in a productive and solidarity way. Often it’s really quite incredible how much people have in common that you actually wouldn’t expect even in widely different situations. There’s a lot that we can learn from one another, especially when united. Of course there is so much disconnect, even technology in some capacity, does disconnect us to the world around us, but also
The internet is amazing in regards to offering a virtual space that reconnects you to working with the world around you. In reality, it’s a tool. It can take over, but I think used in the right way, it’s can be really a great advantage and a great way to mobilize change.