Olu Oguibe’s obelisk titled Monument to Strangers and Refugees (2017), a site-specific work made for Documenta 14 was dismantled on Germany’s national holiday Unity Day, Hyperallergic reports. The removal of the work follows a majority vote cast by Kassel’s city council on 24 September. Positioned in Königsplatz (King’s Square), the 16-metre obelisk was inscribed with words from a verse in Matthew 25:35: ‘I was a stranger and you took me in’, was also inscribed in gold letters in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. In August 2017, a crowdfunding campaign was launched by the city to acquire the work permanently for the Königsplatz. In a statement to Hyperallergic, Oguibe said: ‘Once I indicated my willingness to accept the funds raised, the city leaders instantly moved the goal posts and threw in a new obstacle. Their stated problem was no longer the asking prices or money, for that matter, but the very location of the work. They demanded that it was no longer enough for me to accept the amount raised through the public fundraising, but that the work must be removed from their central square, no matter what.’
There is speculation that the change in tone was motivated by the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment in Kassel’s city council which follows from AfD (the right-wing Alternative for Germany) member Thomas Materner, who last year called the work ‘disfiguring’.
Oguibe will now need to decide on where is work should be placed, though Kassel’s mayor, Christian Geselle, is accountable for relocating the work. In a further statement to Hyperallergic, Oguibe has said: ‘I believe that it would be useful now for the city of Kassel to also consider putting in place a proper policy regarding acquisition or otherwise of site-specific public art works. Whatever such a policy might involve, it would, at least, go a long way toward helping artists and the city anticipate and resolve issues such as the ones’s that we’ve all had to contend with over the past several months.’
5 October 2018