Every day, hundreds of migrants die at Europe’s aggressively sealed-off borders. These borders are the world’s deadliest. Year after year, thousands of people die trying to cross them. The victims of this cordon sanitaire are buried in masses in the hinterland of Southern European states. They have no names. No-one looks for their relatives. No-one brings them flowers.
The Center for Political Beauty took these dead immigrants from the EU’s external borders right to the heart of Europe’s mechanism of defense: to the German capital. Those who died of thirst or hunger at our borders on their way to a new life, were thus able to reach the destination of their dreams beyond their death. Together with the victims’ relatives, we opened inhumane graves, identified and exhumed the bodies and brought them to Germany.
“In light of the fact that the victims did not make it to our country alive, the Center for Political Beauty brings us their bodies. We are being confronted with the consequences of what we do or rather what we don’t do. That is the one thing. The other is: the intervention transforms piles of corpses into individuals who lost their lives. It transforms refugees into people. The intervention also affirms our feeling that we are about to commit grave mistakes. We didn’t ask what happened to those who died. The artist are now doing exactly that. In the year 442 BC, a theatre play was staged in Athens. The heroine of the play was a young woman who defied the ruler’s will, the law so to say. He had ordered that Polynikes should not be buried. The play contained a dialogue between two women. One of them says that she shares the outrage at the ruler’s order but that she cannot muster the courage to stage a rebellion against this decision. Antigone replies: ’Use that excuse, if you like, but I indeed will go and heap a tomb for my dearest brother’. She does wrong in order to do right. It is our hope that we will listen to the dead seeing as we ignored their screams while they were still alive“.
Against every rule of probability, we exhumed a mother who had drowned on her way to Europe - due to our inaction - and was buried as “unknown“ by the authorities in Sicily. We took her to her loved ones in Germany. We were not allowed to bury her two-year-old child with her. Instead, we managed to free a sixteen-year-old from the shackles of bureaucracy. He had collapsed on the trip of horror on the Mediterranean and his body was confiscated by the authorities for ten weeks in order to get his relatives to testify against their smuggler. We gave these migrants the dignity they deserve. But it was not just about saving their dignity.
"The most radical interpretation of Sophocles’ ‘Antigone‘ that we have seen in a while."
“Their most spectacular intervention up until now!“
“Their intervention might be horrifying. But even more horrifying is the reality at Europe’s external borders.“
“Artists exhume bodies of refugees in Sicily and drive them to Germany under the influence of drugs.“
“The debate focuses only on whether or not the CPB’s type of art crosses certain boundaries, in particular the boundary between theatre and reality itself- as if the borders between words matter more than those of Europe itself.“
"If politicians and their voters cannot find a solution, maybe the problem must be made abstract and topics such as war, flight and death must be staged in a theater play. The Center for Political Beauty has done an impressive job directing this play. They created the pictures that Europe needs to see in order to finally understand that we must take action."
“The choice of the means used is what makes the difference: a human rights organisation would have to provide documents in order to proof the credibility of their claims. A group of performers acts within the realm of the imaginary. The artists are playing with forms of presentation, constructs of reality and exaggeration. And leave nothing left to be desired when it comes to the clarity of their message.“
“It is about breaking with our society’s rituals of conscience, shattering the shell of political rhetorics and countering the modified pictures in newscasts with different images. It is about holding responsible a criminal way of doing politics and asking who is to blame.“
"For German dramatist Heiner Müller, the most important task of theatre was to excavate the dead ‘again and again’. For him, theatre was a place for evoking the dead: in theatre, those who live are able to meet the dead instead of suppressing them and what was done to them."
euphrates.org The German art of death and politics
theglobebandmail.com Activists, artists bury migrants who died trying to reach Europe in Germany
opendemocracy.net From a watery grave to a Berlin plot
berlinlogs.com Dead Bodies Remind Germany of its Responsibility
kaput-mag.com In praise of collective action
In Greece and Italy there is not enough space to bury the vast number of victims of Europe’s war of defense. We wanted to lay the foundations for a cemetery of superlatives in front of the Federal Chancellery: a memorial to the victims of Europe’s aggressive isolation placed underneath an arch that reads “To the Unknown Immigrants“.
Sample 1: On 30 May 2015, the media reported the discovery of 17 bodies. This time, however, we were prepared to show the people of Europe what happens to the victims’ bodies. At first, they were put into coffins and displayed at the harbour. Then, they were packed into garbage bags and thrown onto a pile in hospital cooling chamber. Against every form of decency. These are pictures that you were never meant to see. The black puddle on the floor is the leaked blood from 17 people. We won’t show you what it looks like inside the cooling chamber. German newspaper “taz“ decided to find out more about the story behind the pictures.
Sample 2: Sidiro, Greece: in August 2010, German activists discovered a mass grave with more than 200 bodies. Women, children and men who drowned trying to cross the heavily guarded (at the time by German police) border between Greece and Turkey. Even though the local government had stipulated that the deceased should be washed and buried according to Muslim traditions, the undertaker buried the corpses alongside a sandy path in the Greek hinterland - where they lie to this day. Later on, authorities simply declared the site a cemetery.
Sample 3: 22 January 2015, Catania, Italy: 13 missing persons’ bodies were discovered in a storage hall in Sicily, among them two children. Due to “bureaucratic obstacles“ the bodies had been lying there for eight months.
Sample 4: Italy’s mayors were desperately looking for political support. In Greece, victims are buried according to Muslim traditions. In Italy, they receive a Christian burial. As early as 2013, the Eritrean community complained about the burial practices. So far nothing has happened.
“We believe that every person killed at the wall of Europe is one too many. After politicians have turned these people into statistics, you have turned these numbers back into people. Thank you.“
“With all due respect for humanitarian work: such interventions cross the boundaries of piety.“
“Making dead refugees the object of an art performance is disconcerting and without regard for piety.“
“Those who talk about lack of piety should go to Europe’s external borders.“
“I thought for a long time about what I should think about this intervention. But at the end of the day, it is all about the question: what is more perverse- an art performance that is very close to crossing the limits of taste and piety or the cynicism of the EU’s approach towards refugees which ignores the suffering of thousands of people and willingly accepts their death? The CPB has managed to demonstrate the hypocrisy and double standards of our social values. Why is the dignity of the victims being defended but that of those who are still alive despised?“
“This intervention sheds light on what other people would have preferred to leave in the dark.“
“I rarely run out of words but this intervention has left me speechless […] and yet I am trying to express my deeply felt speechlessness caused by your political art. I have been tied forever to theatre / art but this project is the strongest and boldest that I have experienced.“
“I am convinced that this intervention is one of the strongest forms of expression of political theatre in recent years, even though the occasion - the death of several thousands of people at Europe’s external borders - is extremely sad.“
“Many would find it extremely comfortable if the bodies would continue to be far far away.“