FLAX – Foreign Local Artistic Xchange. A Mentoring-Programme for Refugee Artists and a Network for Cultural Collaborations

Top local artists provide one-to-one support to creative artists who have fled their homelands.

von Rebecca Ellsäßer

Für FLAX symbolisieren die Ballons, dass ihr Netzwerk etwas "transportiert", das nicht als Last, sondern als federleicht, als schwebend empfunden wird - die Kunst nämlich, die Kultur. Der Jugendliche verkauft Luftballons vor der Eyüp-Sultan-Moschee in Istanbul, September 2010. Foto: Jesco Denzel
For FLAX, the balloons symbolize that the network “transports” something not experienced as burdensome but as feathery and light – namely, art and culture. The teenager sells the ballons in front of the Eyüp-Sultan-Mosque, Istanbul. Photo: Jesco Denzel

How can you offer practical help to newcomer artists so that they can continue their work in exile? How can you build bridges and make it easier for talented refugees to access art and the art scene in this country?

These questions and the wish to create a more intensive confrontation between Germany’s cultural sector and the reality of immigration society wouldn’t leave Lanna Idriss, bank director and social entrepreneur (Gyalpa), the painter Katharina Grosse and the visual artist Nasan Tur in peace. It’s the reason why together they established a network for cultural collaborations at the start of the year. FLAX (Foreign Local Artistic Xchange) aims to open doors, hence its co-operations with numerous cultural institutions, including the Berlin Weissensee School of Art and its foundationClass, the Goethe-Institut, the Villa Romana, the Kunst-Werke Institute for Contemporary Art, the ifa, the Centre for Art and Urbanistics, the Düsseldorf Art Academy, Gyalpa and WIR MACHEN DAS. In addition to organising interdisciplinary and intercultural art projects, the FLAX Mentoring Programme also opens up access to universities, scholarships and residencies, and provides individual support for newcomer artists in the form of important information and help with applications and workshops.

“We found that the tandem principle, i.e. one-to-one supervision, works best,” says Lanna. “You need time to get to know each other, and you also need time for yourself.” Lanna is the daughter of a man from Homs, Syria, so she finds it easy to make contact and develop trust with refugee artists. She is particularly interested in very young women who experienced puberty at the time the Arabic Revolution broke out and who are often far less influenced by the country’s hierarchical and patriarchal structures than their older male colleagues. “Their way of working reveals totally unrestrained energy and very independent artistic positions,” says Lanna.

The performance artist and painter Alina Amer is one of these women. She is also one of a total of 64 artists from Syria, Pakistan, Iran, Somalia and Palestine who FLAX has been working with on an individual basis in very different ways. Born in Ukraine, Alina grew up in Damascus and worked initially as an architect. Last year she obtained a student visa and moved to Berlin. Thanks to an announcement in the FLAX newsletter, until the end of june she could be seen in Bureaux de Langue, a performative installation by the Brazilian artist Paulo Nazareth, which was curated by the Frankfurt Art Association guesting in Mousonturm. Alina occupied the performative space, a space that acted as an office for encounters where people of different cultures attempted to enter dialogue without having a common language to do so.

The artist Alina Amer during the performative installation "Bureau De Langue." Photo: Juliane Kuttner, Copyright: Frankfurter Kunstverein
The artist Alina Amer during the performative installation “Bureau De Langue.” June 2016. Photo: Juliane Kuttner, Copyright: Frankfurter Kunstverein

FLAX – Foreign Local Artistic Xchange is about working with top artists in a small group, in doing so never generalising but instead taking individual cases into account, and above all, as with newcomers, bringing young and old together with established creative artists from every nation. A blue flower drawn with a soft stroke adorns the logo. The softness is deceiving, however, as FLAX stands for pragmatism, energy and optimism, a pioneering collaboration in which a civic pilot project and public cultural institutions work together to support newcomer artists and at the same time promote new formats for exchanging knowledge and skills.

The monthly FLAX newsletter is thought as an introduction to the cultural world in Germany. It assembles news, calls and offers in culture, which are accessible to everyone. If you would like to subscribe or have any questions please write an email to: germanculturenews@gmail.com

Aus dem Deutschen: Nickolas Woods