ZKM | Museum of Contemporary Art, 09|17|2011 – 02|05|2012
Networks and Systems. Globalization as Subject

AFROs for Euros – The Laboratoire Debérlinisation in Karlsruhe


AFRO Edition 2011 for The Global Contemporary. © Mansour Ciss Kanakassy & Baruch Gottlieb

In 1991, 52 African states signed the Abuja Treaty. One of the treaty’s clauses stipulates: an African currency comparable to the Euro should be in place by the year 2028. The Laboratoire Debérlinisation did not wish to wait so long: the Berlin artist’s combo began introducing utopian currency bills of a unified and independent Africa since 2002, namely, the so-called AFRO. Meanwhile, this art currency has also been circulating in Karlsruhe. A discussion with Baruch Gottlieb.

FS: You founded the Laboratoire Déberlinisation together with Mansour Ciss Kanakassy, in Berlin, in 2001. One significant point of reference is the Congo Conference between the European Colonial powers, which took place their in 1884/85. Why?

BG: The borders that were drawn through the African continent at the Congo Conference were arbitrary, though, for the most part, continue to be valid until today, and hinder Africans in establishing economic, intellectual and creative relations with one another. With the Laboratoire, we discuss this situation – thus “Déberlinisation”.

FS: With the AFRO, you communicate the idea of an economically independent Africa in which colonial borders no longer play a role. You introduce the currency bills to the public via a mobile bureau de change. Are there any differences in the reaction to the project depending on where it is shown?

BG: The differences are not that significant, especially when we show the project in a public space, such as here at the Karlsruhe Railway Station. The fact that the AFRO looks like money means that almost everyone is interested in it, and the discussions are always very similar, whether we talk with workers or with artists.

FS: What would you say is a typical question?

BG: BG: “Is that real money?”, “Can I buy something with it?” and, naturally, “How much is it worth?” We then ask: “How much do you think it is worth?”. Africans often consider the AFRO a good idea. The hope that Africa can itself determine its values and natural resources is something shared by most of them.

FS: The exchange offer “AFRO for Euro” initially prompts hesitation. What do you infer from this?

BG: As long as one moves within the confines of the flow of information and sensation in the so-called post-historical world, one soon neglects the fact that financial values are based entirely on material goods. Raw materials have to be procured somewhere by someone. At this level locality remains a stubborn fact. This is why currency systems are not easy to change. Our project confronts our own utopianism with this intractable truth.

FS: The project has a fundamental political tenor, but at the same time your performances contain a certain grotesque moment. How important is humor to you?

BG: We remain within discursive space of art and in the sphere in which art can exert an influence. We do not understand ourselves as politicians. But Mansour and I come from generations influenced by very utopian politics – Mansour from the Léopold Sédar Senghor era in Senegal, whereas I am from the Pierre Trudeau generation in Canada. We have seen how politics is capable of transforming the world for the good, and we stage this retrospectively by way of art. But this is just one experience, not a political movement – we embody the idealism with which we grow up. This is, perhaps, why there is also a childish lightness to the work, even though our themes are entirely serious.

A video documenting the perfomance at the Karlsruhe Railway Station can be found here. Find further information on the project in The Global Contemporary and on the projects website


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