BEYOND BELONGING. Between cultural spaces and identities

Laura Paetau

In her inaugural address for the opening of the new season at Maxim Gorki Theatre in Berlin, Carolin Emke explains: “Identities are a means of transport but not a home. Identities are something to travel but nothing to live in.” (1)

Postmigration is a controversial term that has found its way into German written press with the arrival of Shermin Langhoff and Jens Hilje as the new directors of the Maxim Gorki Theatre. It is the artists who decline a ‘postmigrant identity’ and propose an alternate concept. As creative actors they design new narratives that reflect German society. Postmigration can be understood as a filter or lens. This perspective is based on certain experiences between different cultures and languages. Hereby the process of moving between a sense of self and a sense of others is especially relevant. Postmigrant representations deconstruct prominent stereotypes and defy the supposed image of “the” Latina or Turkish Immigrant.

But to understand postmigrant self-representations merely as a counter-identification or counterculture is also a simplification. Stereotypes and the sense of others are also being appropriated and processed through self-representations.

José Esteban Muñoz explains “disidentifications” as strategies of marginalized subjects between identification and counter-identification within a hegemonic culture. He describes: "the postcolonial hybrid is a subject whose identity practices are structured around an ambivalent relationship to the sign of empire and the sign of the 'narrative', a subject who occupies a space between the west and the rest.“ (2) Muñoz analyses performance as everyday practice and assumes that certain strategies are being made explicit in Performance Art. This correlation between everyday practice and artistic performance seems to be fundamental for postmigrant representations between cultural spaces.

Stuart Hall describes identities as the product of different interlocking histories and cultures, which at the same time belong to different homelands and can never be homogenous. “Cultural identity (…) is a matter of ‘becoming’ as well as ‘being’. It belongs to the future as much as to the past. (…) Far from being eternally fixed in some essentialised past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture and power.” (3) Postmigrant cultural representations bring this play on stage. His- and Herstories about migration are being told and the question is raised: What comes after? Thereby cultural and verbal translations accompany the second and third generations. I assume that in cultural in-between spaces, cultural identities are being negotiated. But how? Which artistic practices and aesthetics play a role? What are the similarities and differences concerning the diversity of culture, race and language? And which utopian moments can be found in Postmigrant Performance Art?

(1) Emcke, Carolin: Rede zur Eröffnung der Spielzeit 13/14, Programmheft Gorki Theater Berlin, S. 3.

(2) Muñoz, José Esteban: Disidentifications, Minneapolis 1999, University of Minnesota Press, S. 78.

(3) Hall, Stuart: Cultural Identity and Diaspora. In: Patrick, Williams and Chrisman (Hg.): Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory: a Reader. London 1994, Harvester Wheatsheaf, S. 225.

E-Mail: laura.paetau@fu-berlin.de 

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