The project Wanderjahre [Journeyman Years] speaks to cultural and political dimensions of labor migration, with Turkish migrants in Germany over the past century as examples. The choice of sculptural form—a construction helmet—refers to the heavy labor of early Turkish migrant workers, invited to Germany as Gastarbeiters [guest workers] due to the acute labor shortage during the economic boom in the 1960s and 1970s. These migrant workers brought cultural traditions with them, as indicated by the 16th century Iznik pottery decoration on the helmet. The choice of porcelain as the material for the helmet refers to changing cultural patterns over the course of history but also to the fragility of expatriates’ migratory experience, especially after they did not return to Turkey. Today, these guest workers’ instrumental role in boosting Germany’s economic miracle is overshadowed by protests over the construction of mosques and other markers of Turkish and/or Islamic identity. Controversies over the public visibility of the Turkish minority group in Germany and increasing polarization over the presence of “Islam in the West” give insights into the broader cultural pluralization of Europe—the old continent’s challenges in coming to terms with its own history of imperialism, colonialism, Orientalism and competing nationalisms. Highlighting the migrant worker immigrant’s role as a transmitter of cultural influences, knowledge and skills, the project seeks to destabilize the misconstrued and essentialist perceptions of Gastarbeiters’ identity in Germany, linking it to contemporary global politics of migrant labor and exploitation, also in and through architecture.
Azra Akšamija, Wanderjahre #1, 2014
Dimenisons: 7.9in x 11.8in x 5.9in
Credits: Project author (concept and design): Azra Akšamija. Ceramic painting: Nurgün Yavuz. Production help: Mahir M. Yavuz. Ceramic Craftsman: Selim Yazıcı. Assistant Designer: Ayşegül Aras. Produced for the exhibition “New Hamburg Gallery” in Hamburg Veddel, curated by Adnan Softić within the Festival by DeutschesSchauSpielHaus. Courtesy of Azra Akšamija.