Private photos of GDR migrants – Following the trail of images

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Project description

Judging from the visual media it left behind, the GDR was predominantly white. Immigrants and “East Germans of colour” were rarely represented; their everyday lives were hardly visible. In the few photos of them in the public archives, East German immigrants are often shown in stereotypical situations. In the collective memory of East German imagery, two tropes are prevalent: the visual idealisation of proletarian internationalism as was propagated in photos issued by the GDR photo agency Zentralbild, and the portrayal of immigrants as the victims or losers of history.

The interdisciplinary research project “De-Zentralbild” (De-Central Image) will create a digital exhibition devoted to the photographic and biographical (self-)representation of former East German immigrants. Using private photos, the organisers aim to (re-)present what everyday life in the GDR looked like from the immigrants’ perspective. Accompanying texts, illustrations and video portraits will shed light on their history and present-day circumstances. How do former GDR immigrants and their families live in Germany today? What ever became of the contract workers, students and political exiles who returned to their countries of origin?

The project team headed by the stage director Julia Oelkers and historian Isabel Enzenbach will collaborate with young artists and activists of second-generation GDR immigrants together with partners in Mozambique, Cuba and Vietnam to curate and translate the content in the digital archive in five languages. Accompanying events in Leipzig, Hanoi, Maputo, Havana and virtual events online will further increase the international visibility of the project. Upon conclusion, the researched materials will be transferred to the collection at DOMiD | Documentation Centre and Museum of Migration in Germany.

Artistic directors: Isabel Enzenbach, Julia Oelkers
Artists: Susanne Beer, Thanh Nguyen, Thúy Phuong Nguyen, Caterina Simão, Champola Films Cuba

Digital exhibition:
Launch at 22 Jun. 2023, 8pm at Volksbühne Berlin; hybrid events with protagonists in Germany, Mozambique, Vietnam and Cuba in spring 2023


Out of Focus

c/o autofocus Videowerkstatt e.V.
Lausitzer Straße 10
Aufgang B / 4. Etage
10999 Berlin