Gurmeet Singh, Germany
When artworks and artefacts get vandalised in museums and galleries, we think two things: A) it was an accident, or B) it was a political act. A) Is a nightmare (imagine smashing a 2,000 year old vase because of an undone shoelace). B) might be intelligible, or it might not. What happened in Berlin over the last month, is most certainly not intelligible. The Guardian writes:
“At least 70 artworks and ancient artefacts across three galleries on Berlin’s museum island were vandalised with an oily substance earlier this month, German media has reported.
Objects including Egyptian sarcophagi, stone sculptures and 19th-century paintings held at the Pergamon Museum, the Alte Nationalgalerie and the Neues Museum sustained visible damage during the attack on 3 October, according to reports in the weekly Die Zeit and broadcaster Deutschlandfunk on Tuesday.
News of the attack was kept from the public for more than two weeks.
The Prussian Heritage Foundation, which oversees the museum island collections, reportedly confirmed that objects in the exhibitions had sustained damage. Police in the German capital said they had launched an investigation but would not comment on a motive behind the attack.”
According to German media, a well-known public figure and conspiracy theorist, Attila Hildman may provide a clue:
ZEIT and Deutschlandfunk reported that the conspiracy ideologist Attila Hildmann spread on his public Telegram channel in August and September that the Pergamon Museum was the “Throne of Satan” and that it was the center of the “global Satanist scene and Corona criminals”.”
There are indeed plenty of issues cultural institutions have to contend with, such as reparations and decolonisation. It may never have occurred to the managers and curators of cultural spaces however, that they were presiding over the “Throne of Satan”.
I for one think the museum should lean into the chaos. Apparently, the Alter of the Pergamon has been described as “Satanic”. The Pergamon Museum might be able to boost visitor numbers by rebranding exhibitions: “Step right up! Come see the amazing Throne of Satan! We swear it’s not just a pile of old stones. Come see the amazing ‘statue of God’! Ignore the fact that it says ‘Zeus’ on the description.”
In all seriousness, our weird times seem to be getting weirder. Conspiracy theorists have already disrupted major public health recommendations during the pandemic (during which it is vital that everyone takes precautions and modifies their behaviour), and in Berlin, they have also shown a willingness to ally themselves with the far-right and Neo-Nazis.
Conspiracy theorists and theories seem to have increasing purchase on our public debates, lives and spaces, and challenging their spread in an efficient and humane way seems difficult. Not only do classic issues of free speech come into play, but also, the trust we have in one another and governments. There are of course very serious threats to specific groups of people, particularly Jewish communities, as these conspiracy theories spread. We have to start taking their threat seriously.
This article was first published in Fair Planet
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