In a previous  post, I explained « why curators eat artists ». To explain « why some curators can not eat artists », I need to tell you my Goethe Institute Banana Parable of January 2021.

When the wall separating Berlin Est from Berlin West was removed, many people from the eastern part of Berlin discovered bananas. During the Cold War austerity policies, it was impossible  for simple East- Berliners to have bananas or any other exotic fruits. So after the  German unification, people from the East were so happy rushing on  the exotic fruits and  discovering new tastes. 

In a public park, I was sitting near  a german  picnicker who came with a bunch of bananas. He peeled a banana, then he took out a salt-shaker from his pocket, put some salt on the peeled banana , tasted it, made a grimace of disgust before spitting the banana out of his mouth. He took another banana, peeled it , took a pepper shaker and added some pepper on the second banana before he makes another grimace of pain and spits the banana away.  After that ,the man peeled another banana, spread some mustard on it, tasted it, grimaced and  spat the banana before he concludes: « Die Banane ist nicht gut ! »

This is exactly what happened to me when a Goethe Institut curator  invited me, in January 2021,  to contribute to the international commemoration of the centenary of Joseph Beuys. The story ran like a «Commedia dell'Arte» in three acts :

Act 1 : BEUYS

The cultural programme director of Goethe institute in Sudan said that they are asking different   artists around the world to say, in two minutes video, why Joseph Beuys is important for them. In the « Beuys legacy »project description it is said :

We want to keep this format light and playful, and try to also not necessarily create a cult of personality around Beuys but also engage critically with his person and his ideas. And so we want to open up the celebratory programme of Beuys’ 100th birthday in Germany and include as many international and diverse voices as possible. 

I was happy with my «mission» because Beuys's figure of an artist/shaman is still very fascinating. I remember it was a big surprise when I discovered his « coyote performance» of 1974 in New York. The idea of an artist sharing a cage with a wild animal  in the name of art, was disturbing, maybe because I was trained to consider art as a graphic practice. Also, at that time, in Khartoum art movement there was a debate about the social identity of the artist and the social meaning of art. So when Beuys says: « I am not an artist unless everybody else is an artist », you feel like receiving a precious support from an unexpected friend.

So I made my two minutes video and sent it to Goethe Institut. The main idea in my video accentuated the Christian dimension of Beuys's art practice :

For me, Beuys is an artist  and a prophet in the good tradition of Christian art. His personal mythology is an exciting remake of the conversion of St. Paul on the road to Damascus. Redemption comes after the fall. I think Joseph Beuys  helped me to leave  the sphere of painting to join the complex sphere of  the Image. It seemed that the curators reaction to my video was encouraging. BUT they seemed upset by an image in the background of my video.That was a portrait of Mao on the wall of my studio. The Goethe Institue in Munich asked me to shoot a new video without the portrait of Mao otherwise they will not upload my «banana » to their social media channels!.I couldn't understand their over reaction about the Mao portrait but I preferred not to shoot  a new video.The moral of this story is simple:If you don't want to be eaten by the Goethe Institut curators put a Mao in your art.


To give you an idea about the the reaction of the Goethe Institute curators to my video  I am quoting  excerpts of  the emails exchange with Goethe Institut representatives. First I tried to explain the presence of Mao 's portrait in my video.

My message of February 24, 2021 :

" Hi Sahar, (Sahar is my contact in Goethe Institute of Khartoum), thank you for your  message. I did this video about Beuys in my studio. The fact that Mao's portraits appear on the background of the video is a coincidence. It  happened that at the moment when  the video was made I was working on Mao's image. This is my natural working environment and I do not understand why my  unfinished artwork  disturbs! I think I fulfilled my part of the contract honestly but if you feel that my video doesn't fit with your project you can forget the whole thing and look for other artists. "  

 On February 24, I received an oral message in my WhatsApp, from Sahar Abdelazim, saying:

« The people in Germany asked me to talk with you and try to persuade you if you could reshoot the same video on a new background other than the first one with Mao's portrait »

On 1/3/2021, I received an other oral message from Sahar Abdelazim saying : 

« I hope you could make the video differently ». 

Then on March 10, I received a new oral message from Sahar saying :

« I hope our video is done ».

The same day I wrote  back:

« Dear Sahar, I am so sorry, I put you in such an uncomfortable situation with regard to the institution who assigned you  this video mission. I already explained  the context in which the Image of Mao appeared in my video. In fact it could have been any other image or no image at all, but I was intrigued by the reaction of the curator and the insisting demands about something I considered of less importance in my video. This situation aroused my suspicions about the limit of the curator's responsibility. Can the curator be a neutral mediator? Has he /she any authority to judge  artistic options? In other words, can the curator tell me « Hassan, it would be better if you shave your beard ! » because if you don't you would be making a statement that might put us in trouble... So when I found the Goethe Institut curator very insisting I said to myself : « Hassan ,you left Nimeiry's Sudan (and Elbeshir's Sudan) long time ago because you did not accept the political curators  of the tyranny to come and tell you what to do with your art. Now you are too old to accept  the political curators of the Goethe Institut telling you what to do with your art !.. ».


 A «Knock out Round» is the moment when singers are knocked out of the TV musical competition by the audience or by the coach,(The Voice). 

The 24th of Mars,2021 I received the email from Schayan Riaz who defined himself as the coordinator and editor of the project “About Beuys”. Mr Riaz wrote:

".. After screening your video internally, we however felt that because of the background (the many  Mao portraits), we could run into some problems with followers and viewers, having to explain the context. There are certain regulations that we need to adhere to when we are using our own platform (in this case Facebook, YouTube, Twitter), and it could very well be possible that followers view the video and send a complaint because they don’t understand the statement you are making with several Mao portraits in the picture, which have nothing to do with what you are saying about Beuys.”

Reading Riaz words inspired me a strange idea: The social media  followers and viewers are metamorphosing  the Goethe Institut “prince” into a “frog”! But Mr Riaz who would never want to compromise my freedom of expression, seems to consider me  as a naive ”village idiot” because I put the Mao portrait in the wrong place. Putting Mao on the wrong place could be considered as a political statement by Mr Riaz and his social media followers. May Allah bless you my dear friend! Because you missed reading my body language as a political statement also! In my art practice, I learned that a “ Blank canvas” is a political statement when there is a conscious intention behind it, but there is no statement in my working space. The only statement in my studio environment, visible in the background of the video, could be: I am a working artist ! “Art is work”(Milton Glaser).

Mr Riaz wrote:

“..I very well understand that you have an artistic choice and freedom and I would never want to compromise that. We aren’t censoring your voice in any way, because we don’t want to change your words or the content of what you are saying about Beuys. However, because you are speaking about Beuys in the video and that is what the project is about, the Mao portraits are hanging behind you have no context or relation to the video. Therefore we requested you to explain why you chose this background. I understand that after speaking to the Goethe-Institut in Sudan (Lilli Kobler is in cc), that this is your normal workspace in your studio and you didn’t actively chose this background.”

Beyond the social medias followers and viewers  fears, Mr Riaz develop another idea about Mao 's portraits in the background of my video. Although nobody can predict my motivations or my intentions from an unfinished art work appearing on the background of my video, Mr Riaz reads my Mao portrait  as a kind of political statement in favour of Mao. According to Mr Riaz, Mao's place is supposed to be with Stalin and Hitler! Somebody has to remind Mr Riaz that Stalin, Hitler and Mao can not escape the complexities of history. (Hitler was elected!). If we read more of Mr Riaz's words you will learn more, not about Hitler, Mao or Stalin, but about the state of mind of this person assigned by the Goethe Institut to commemorate joseph Beuys:  

" ..I understand and appreciate that your work deals with controversial figures from history (Beuys is also one of them of course), and that you express that through your artwork. But the thing I have difficulty understanding is in what relation the background stands when you aren’t providing any context to it in your video? Mao was a dictator, people reference him when they speak of Stalin and Hitler. People talk about the high body count during Mao, Hitler and Stalin’s dictatorships. If you would have mentioned that in your video, or provided an explanation as to why you are sitting in front of such artworks (and that you are critically or not critically examining Mao), then it would make sense."

When Mr Riaz writes “Mao was a dictator, people reference him when they speak of Stalin and Hitler”, nobody can tell whether Mr Riaz is expressing the Goethe Institut opinion or Riaz's personal opinion. Who are these “people” who “talk about the high body count during Mao, Hitler and Stalin’s dictatorships.”? When Mr Riaz express's his political view about Mao , he is also making an abusive use of his privileged position as a curator of the Goethe Institut. I expect the Goethe Institut to clarify its position about the political  commentary of Mr Riaz and I hope that the Goethe Institut makes the expected apologies to the memory of Joseph Beuys. I also hope that the Goethe Institute extend  the apologies to myself for the mistreatment I endured because I accepted to be part of the Beuys commemoration. Here are   some excerpts of my message to Mr Riaz:

(Mail of 25/03/2021) 

My dear Schayan Riaz, if Beuys was alive I would have appealed to his benevolence and hope that he intercedes on behalf of my video. Unfortunately Beuys is absent and I am here reading you telling me:

1)   Shoot a new video with a different, more neutral background or

2)   If you definitely want to keep the background, you at least contextualize it in the video and not just have it there for no reason.” Otherwise, "we cannot upload it to our social media channels. But if you send a new video according to my suggestion, then of course we will upload it."

My dear Schayan Riaz, you have no authority to tell artists to do or undo such or such things about the content of their work. You say you are not censoring me! As I see it ,you are only insulting me because your message is a direct bold blackmail I ever witnessed! And you propose to remunerate me, even if you can not upload my video to your social media channels!

Thank you for your generosity but if my video is not integrated in the Beuys project then I can not accept remuneration for being censored by the Goethe Institut or by any other institute.

 “Beyond my personal deception for being excluded from the celebratory programme of Beuys’ 100th birthday, the reaction of the Goethe Institute to my video is interesting because  I think it might  enlighten the way international cultural institutions deal with artists especialy in countries like Sudan. If you google the Goethe Institut status you will read  them saying 

"Our work conveys an up-to-date picture of Germany and thus ensures a realistic and nuanced perception of our country abroad. To this end we receive institutional funding from the Federal Foreign Office, which we supplement with revenue generated by our language courses." (

In Khartoum the Goethe Institut, like « L'Institut Français », «The British Council »  or the American Center » are political institutions connected to a global network of similar organs. They are designed, since the epoch of the Cold War, to defend the strategic interests of the NATO countries under the cover of educational  and cultural activities.That being said, we have to admit that these «cultural» organizations are needed because they contribute to patch up the  poor educational system for thousands of Sudanese students who follow language courses in these centers. This is where everybody would remind me to look at «the half full of the bottle». The problem with this «cultural» bottle is that it is too little in comparison with the real  big cultural needs in Sudan.


If you liked my Banana tale in the beginning of this text, you will adore this banana tale  that I hope might help you to understand why  some artists are  happy to be eaten by European curators:

"During the great  African famine of the  eighties, a hungry man was wondering in the bush looking for something to eat. Suddenly he saw a bunch of bananas on the ground. He exclaimed: Oh! a bunch of Bananas! Then picked the bunch and said loudly: Thank you my God you saved my life!

While  eating the bananas he found one spoiled banana, he threw it away and continued his road.

The second day another hungry man  passed by the same place searching for something to eat. Suddenly he saw the rotten banana on the ground. He was so happy that he exclaimed :Oh! A rotten banana!

Thank you my God for saving my life, then he picked the rotten fruit, pealed it , ate it and threw the skin away.

The third day, a third hungry man passed by the same place. He was so starving that when he saw the rotten banana skin on the ground, he could’t help it, he exclaimed : Oh! A banana skin! He picked it , ate it up and  raised his eyes to the sky and  said :

Thank you my God for saving my life.

This third  man is an African Artist. He knows that if he doesn’t pick up the rotten banana skin that  the European curators offer him  he will be starving to death in an absolute indifference."

Hassan MUSA - 2021-5-24