Abstracts

Performing Blackness in the Transatlantic World: Germany, Race, Intermediality

Loren Kruger, “African Modernities at the World Fairs: The Transvaal-Ausstellung in Berlin, 1897”
 
The presentation examines the African presence at the Transvaal-Ausstellung in Berlin in 1897 in the context of a longer-term project on African modernities at the Worlds Fairs. What interests me here is not the representation of ‘savagery’ but the display of African workers, usually simulating work associated with the mines (eg washing diamonds).
 
Priscilla Layne, “’Don’t Look so Sad Because you’re a Little Negro”: Marie Nejar, Afro German Stardom and Negotiations with Black Subjectivity.” 
 
Marie Nejar is a second-generation Afro-German, born in 1932. In the 1940s, her minor roles in Nazi propaganda films as African savage helped ensure her survival in the face of Nazi persecution. Following World War II, she was transformed into the German pop singer Leila Negra, the little black girl with the sad eyes. In this essay, I will analyze Nejar's autobiography, her film performances and her song lyrics in order to address interrelating questions about race, gender, performance and identity in postwar Germany.  I want to consider the extent to which the conditions of the existence of Black Germans did not change between Nazi Germany and West Germany. I argue that under both regimes, Nejar experienced a state of “partial inclusion”; she was allowed to be a part of the German community as long as mechanisms were in place to defuse the threat of her Black femininity.
 
Jonathan Wipplinger, “Blackness in the Construction of German Cabaret Culture”
 
This presentation examines the very early traces of blackface in German-speaking Europe towards the elaboration of cabaret culture as emerging out of the encounter with black and blackfaced performers. Key texts here include: Otto Julius Bierbaum: "Der Negerkomiker" (1891/2) about a student who falls in love with a femme fatale and ends up dying on stage as a blackface minstrel; Otto Julius Bierbaum: "Der Mohr. Eine bömische Geschichte" about a black Berliner who travels to a town in Bohemia and ends up creating a pie-bald new race of children. I read this within the context of the burgeoning cabaret movement, of which Bierbaum was of course a major figure, and conclude with a reading of the place of blackness in Mann/von Sternberg's dramatization of cabaret culture in Professor Unrat/Der blaue Engel.
 
Katrin Sieg, “Blackfacing in German Theater”
In the spring of 2012, the use of blackface/blackfacing in German theater, long an unremarked-upon practice, became the object of public protest, and prompted heated debates about the politics of race and representation. The article rejects the argument made by defendants of blackfacing, that it is not an injurious tradition the way the American minstrel show was, because it does not form part of a racist social system. Through a discussion of the Deutsches Theater’s production of Unschuld (Innocence) by Dea Loher, which stirred up the controversy, the essay shows that blackfacing is part of larger patterns of racial representation. These have recently come under increasing scrutiny in Germany. The controversy about blackfacing is a symptom of larger tectonic shifts in narratives of German identity as postnational and cosmopolitan.
Barbara Mennel, “Love and Law in Austria: Anja Salomonowitz's Die 727 Tage ohne Karamo”
 
Jamele Watkins, "Writing the Diaspora: Olumide Popoola's ‘Also by Mail’"
 
In my paper, I will examine Olumide Popoola’s play “Also by Mail” and her uses of the diaspora. In the family drama, she strengthens national boundaries to discuss issues of nationhood and race. The diaspora is present in her work through the use of Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun, and the 1990s hit “Mo Money Mo Problem” by Puff Daddy (now Diddy). Still, Popoola refuses the U.S. centric view by focusing on an Afro-German family with a father from Africa and not a G.I. from United States. Popoola addresses many things at once in her play: family, gender, racism, while also calling on a literary mother, Lorraine Hansberry. While Hansberry’s Raisin ends on a bleak note, Popoola’s play is hopeful, envisioning change.
 
Angelica Fenner, “Racial Remediation in Günther Wallraff’s Black on White”
 
In the former West Germany, Günther Walraff become widely known as a dogged and at times controversial undercover journalist, beginning with the publication of his book Ganz Unten in 1985. A master of chameleon identities, his more recent documentary Black on White (2009) continues the tradition of ethnic masquerade he launched in 1980s. This paper explores how this film's release in a unified Germany has elicited a reception distinct from his earlier interventions, and attends to the intertextual echoes activated through his intervention.
 
Barbara Mennel, “Love and Law in Austria: Anja Salomonowitz’s Die 727 Tage ohne Karamo”
 
Anja Salomonowitz's 2013 film Die 727 Tage ohne Karamo shows how several couples and families confront the bureaucratic hurdles build into the laws that govern immigration to Austria. The family members and lovers recount stories of legal barriers, including paperwork that has to be gathered, German-language classes and tests, minimum income, surprise visits to test marriage claims, the intimate effects of surveillance and racist criminalization of their Black partners.
The paper focuses on the particularity of the experience of racism and its mediation in the film, not only through the medium film, but also through the social institutions of racism, marriage, love, and gender. As the film portrays different couples, in the order of the sequence of events of a love story, several of the early African members of couples are absent, since they have been deported, when their Austrian partner tells their love story. The film politicizes emotion and the insistence on love in the face of adversarsity, highlighting the underlying acts of anti-racist alliance and solidarity. The film reinterprets love as a political act and shows the invasive and corrosive effects of racist institutional policies, which in one case lead to the break-up of the couple. While the film does not accuse individuals for buckling under pressure, it nevertheless shows the limits of private feelings to resist public pressures that have legal recourse into the private lives of citizens and non-citizens, but that regard all foreigners with suspicious, but sexualize and project criminality of Black men in particular.