Becoming Political — Gastkunstler
Gastkunstler is an important example of Araeen’s approach to radical art. The title is a neologism derived from ‘gastarbeiter’ and ‘kunstler’, the German word for ‘artist’. The word is sprayed across the work, along with the artist’s initials and year of production, in a manner that references political graffiti. The work relays the precarious position of an artist who is kept on the margins due to his ethnicity amidst institutional racism.
A line of photographs in the lower half of the work addresses the human condition outside and inside the European metropolis, showing how Western capitals still make money from countries plundered in colonial times. ‘A Hilton hotel is to be built in the capital of Swaziland at a cost of eight million pounds sterling’, relates a newspaper clipping on the far right. The artist’s self-portrait places him alongside the victims of Western imperialist policies. His personal marginalization thus intersects with the bigger picture of worldwide exploitation and colonisation, as one case study among many others. The use of self-portraiture to connect Araeen’s social standing to big political issues is also vident in other works in this section. Portrait is a classic Western format, and Araaen hijacks it to serve as a carrier of dissent.