Studying without Papers – The *foundationClass

People who flee their countries often have to leave behind not only their homes, but also educational certificates and documents. A project at the weißensee art academy berlin hopes to make it easier for student newcomers to start back at university

von Patricia Bonaudo

Professor Ulf Aminde, head of the foundationClass. Berlin 2016. Photo: Juliette Moarbes

All the important things have to fit into one bag. People who have to leave their homes have an uncertain journey ahead of them. Understandably, taking along papers, documents and certificates or even entire documentations of their previous work may not be their first priority. For many people arriving in Germany, that makes it impossible to begin a planned degree or pick up on one they’d already started. And even if they do have the right documents and certificates they’re often not officially recognized in Germany. In short: the hurdles for getting into a German university are often all but impossible to jump.

That’s why the weißensee art academy berlin is starting its *foundationClass in the summer semester of 2016. The class is designed for would-be art students who want to reconstruct and create lost papers, pictures, proofs, portfolios and materials to qualify for the annual artistic aptitude tests. Planned for one or two semesters, the course is aimed at refugees who either wanted to start an art or design degree in their countries of origin, had already begun, or hope to change degree courses.

The basic idea behind the *foundationClass is to start by making the academy’s infrastructure available, for instance studio space, and enable contact to faculty and other students. The aim is to prepare the participants for the aptitude test for studying at an art or design school in Germany. “Ideally, the graduates of the *foundationClass will be protagonists in the university context and later protagonists in the art or design business,” says Professor Ulf Aminde, head of the *foundationClass.

Interested participants will be admitted to the academy as guest students to begin with. During the *foundationClass they will obtain credit points, which they can carry over to their later degree. The idea is for them to transfer to normal student status after completing the course.
There is no fixed syllabus. The curriculum will be based on the participants’ ideas, needs and experiences: “Why would we teach ‘basics’ when people come here with their own understanding of art and design? People who might have a different understanding of what painting might be or whose work refers to an aesthetic canon that we have yet to discover in its specific qualities at our academy. We have to work out a common basis first, and that gives us an opportunity to question the knowledge of foundation teaching at art schools,” says Ulf Aminde.

To accommodate the participants’ heterogeneity, the art school has selected teachers who also come from a range of contexts and understand what migration, arrival and beginning anew mean for people. “It was important to me to bring in individuals with their own experiences of displacement or migration or who have been active in supporting migrants. People with a very different understanding and perspective to me, having lived in Berlin for thirty years. People who embody the cultural switch we’re aiming for,” explains Ulf Aminde.

Bonaventure Ndikung, Azin Feizabadi, Marina Nabrushkina, Ali Mahmoud, Nasser Hussein and Ali Kaaf will accompany the would-be students in the specialist fields, according to their individual interests and needs. Ulf Aminde is aware of the challenge they’re facing: “It calls for absolute flexibility on the part of the faculty, because we have to go into every participant’s individual questions. We’re interested in developing new formats for dialogue and sharing.”

The same approach applies for social life at the art academy. “What happens when so many different people come together and how can would-be students find a way into student life?” asks Ulf Aminde, promptly providing an answer: “It’s a great enrichment when people from different contexts come together in a heterogeneous group, it harbours great opportunities.” Accompanying language classes ensure that the participants gain greater autonomy and are later able to take part in regular degree courses.

Meeting on an equal level, breaking down the boundaries between helping and participating – these things are important for Ulf Aminde. Even though there are always hurdles to cross and rarely enough money. As yet, for example, it’s not clear how to finance participants’ lunches in the academy cafeteria. Ulf Aminde explains why this very participation, however, is very significant: “This is exactly the place where I want equality. Of course we could buy food and prepare it separately, but then we’d have another exclusion situation.”

This isn’t the only area where the art academy is counting on donations. “We have the basic funding but we have to see how we finance everything else,” says Ulf Aminde. If you want to help make the *foundationClass work, you can make financial donations to the account below:

IBAN: DE79100100100581515100
Postbank Berlin
Title: 28290
Cash Reference Number: 0600300019225
Reference: *foundationClass

Participation in the *foundationClass is free of charge for guest students.

If you have any questions on the *foundationClass and studying at the weißensee art academy berlin, please contact Miriam Schickler, Tel: 030-47705-342,
Consultation times: Tuesdays 1 – 4 pm and Thursdays 10 – 12 am, and by appointment

The course is part of the Art Foundations department at the weißensee art academy berlin and is directed by Professor Ulf Aminde.

Faculty for the various theory and art/design teaching in the summer semester:
Theory and history: Bonaventure Ndikung
Photography and video/digital media: Azin Feizabadi
Drawing, graphic printing: Marina Nabrushkina
Graphic, product and textile design: Ali Mahmoud
Painting: Nasser Hussein
Sculptural/spatial/installation art: Ali Kaaf
Course participants also have an extra contact person for all student guidance and social issues.

Translation: Katy Derbyshire