"Hitler‘s admirers" is the title given to an image found while leafing through the German magazine "Spiegel". You can see Hitler surrounded by a cluster of exited women, leaning towards him, drawn to him, magnetized by his supposed charismatic presence. I wonder to myself: had I been there at the time, would I have been attracted to this man who was later called the personification of evil for the crimes he committed in the Third Reich? But a second thought brings reality into focus: "If Ingrid Njeri Mwangi - the daughter of a Kenyan man and a German woman - had been born during the Third Reich, she would have been considered "of an inferior genotype" and classified as "degenerate progeny". She might never have been born in the first place, as racial anthropologists were demanding the forced sterilization of mothers of Afro-Germans even before the rise of Nazism." 1
There it is again. You can't get out of your skin. You can't change sides. But then again…

"Mwangi occupies both sides. She has Afro-European roots, lives in front and behind the divide. From her father's side she belongs to the "Wretched of the Earth", and from her mother's side she belongs to the "Camp of the Conquerors". Taking this hybridity into account, it cannot be denied that Mwangi's work is determined by the discourse of gender and race. This brings us back to a much more difficult, possibly a rhetorical question…"
Is it easier to be the victim or the perpetrator?

This depends on where and when. To be the perpetrator in the present, profiting and benefiting from a prevailing system of injustice, or to be the perpetrator of that specific past that is considered to have been one of the most shocking and terrible periods in history, where human rights were so blatantly disregarded?
To be the victim, who is humiliated on a daily basis, persecuted, even shuddering with torture pain? Or to be a 'mere' descendent of such, with at best a collective memory of this treatment, but experiencing the consequences of that history?

Studying Hitler's face, I seem to identify a certain uneasiness lurking in his set expression. The way he stiffly looks into the camera, aloof and distanced, as if the scene around him is not taking place. There could just as well be no women around him. Or very different women…

It is easy to say, I was not there, and had I been there, and been somebody else, I would have acted differently. The fact is: German history is part of my heritage. And if in art I have begun to use my identity to ask questions about individual responsibility, then I cannot stop at my African identity. I must go all the way. This is the starting point for a new series of artistic investigations.

In previous works I have been discussing the concept, history and reality of Blackness, beginning with my personal story, and going beyond that into further identification with what it must mean to be discriminated, exploited and violated, by the mere fact of dark skin colour (this search culminated in the performance Coloured, 2001, where I split the video image of my body into differently hued segments.) My artistic strategy became increasingly one of identification; to take the place of the other, in order to feel, to understand. In ”If“ I take a similar approach of putting myself in place of the other, but resulting in a different outcome for the viewer will not as willingly accept my identification with the white, as he does with the black. In this case 'the Other' are those who should have known, who knew and who benefited.

As always, the reason to go a short way back in history is because it is still happening now.

In order to widen the ground of my artistic discourse, it has become necessary to engage in works that investigate circumstances relating to both Robert Hutter and Ingrid Mwangi. Reacting to ideas of male-female dichotomy and socially defined German verses Kenyan identity, the aim is to create tension through the unexpected juxtaposition of two different, personally connected individuals.
Interestingly enough, it was Robert's idea to have Ingrid in the place of the German women in "Hitler‘s admirers". And it was Ingrid‘s idea to create a mixed being of Robert and Hitler, the object of desire around which the women are grouped. Thus, it seems that some ideas evolve easier through the prism of the other's, reflecting eye. The act of this exchange catapults us into an impossible and daunting situation. The presentation of a rejuvenated and modernized Hitler breaks with a quasi taboo of binding the infamous personage to a best forgotten past. It opens up the context to an awesome and frightening thought: how would Ingrid Mwangi and Robert Hutter have related to each other only seven decades ago?
And: how far have we succeeded in overcoming this history?

1 Horst Gerhard Haberl, Art is the message, in Your Own Soul. Ingrid Mwangi, Kehrer Heidelberg/ Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken 2003,  p. 32

2 Jan Hoet and Anne Demeester, Beyond wounds and scars. The multiple worlds of Ingrid Mwangi, in Your Own Soul. Ingrid Mwangi, Kehrer Heidelberg/ Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken, 2003. p. 48

© Mwangi Hutter, 2003

if  was commissioned by the Museum for African Art, New York for the exhibition Looking Both Ways: Art of the Contemporary African Diaspora, curated by Laurie Ann Farrell.


about eventualities.

statement to the photo work “if“

by Mwangi Hutter