Olu Oguibe's Monument to Strangers and Refugees, 2017. Photo: Michael Nast.

Kassel Organizes Campaign to Keep Documenta Monument

Artist Olu Oguibe and authorities in Kassel, Germany, have started a fundraising campaign to keep an obelisk featured in last year’s Documenta, the city’s quinquennial exhibition of contemporary art, installed on the city’s Königsplatz. According to the Art Newspaper, the campaign is seeking $750,000, the amount for which Oguibe has agreed to sell his sculpture, titled Monument to Strangers and Refugees, 2017.

Although Oguibe designed the work specifically for the public square in Kassel, the Nigerian-born, US-based artist said he has received competing offers from other cities in the region. The concrete obelisk honors war victims and bears four translations of the phrase “I was a stranger and you took me in” (Matthew 25:35). The fifty-three-foot structure was intended as a rebuke to xenophobia and a reminder of the generosity necessary amid the refugee crises.

In 2015, chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed refugees into the country in an open-door policy that she revisited last October, when she agreed to restrict the annual number of asylum-seekers entering Germany to two hundred thousand. Since Merkel’s gesture, the right-wing extremist party AfD has become a growing presence in Germany’s parliament. Members of the party were critical of last year’s Documenta and called Oguibe’s sculpture “disfigured art,” a phrase similar to “degenerate art,” a term the Nazis used to describe modern art.

The campaign to purchase the obelisk marks the first time an artist has joined a fundraising effort to buy a work for Kassel, which has bought sixteen Documenta sculptures or installations since 1977. The city has a budget for purchasing indoor artworks, but not outdoor pieces. Last July, Oguibe won Documenta’s Arnold-Bode Prize for the sculpture, which the awarding committee for the prize called “an affirmation of the timeless, universal principles of attention and care towards all those affected by flight and persecution.” According to Kassel’s chief culture official, Susanne Völker, the campaign to acquire Monument to Strangers and Refugees will run three months, at which point, if the established amount is not raised, Oguibe will be free to sell the obelisk elsewhere and return donors’ contributions for this initiative.