News |Thomas Mann Fellows 2023

Politics and Art Discussed Transatlantically

Berlin/Los Angeles, September 8, 2022 - Nine outstanding personalities from the fields of culture and science will discuss the relationship between art and politics at the Thomas Mann House in Los Angeles next year.

The freedom of art is one of the commandments of every democracy. But what role does art play when democracy comes under pressure? The Thomas Mann Fellows selected for 2023 seek to answer these and other questions in Los Angeles. During their stays of several months in the former exile residence of the Mann family, today's Thomas Mann House, they will work on their own projects under the umbrella of the annual theme, "The Political Mandate of Art". They will exchange thoughts and ideas with US experts and the public.

The following nine fellows were nominated by the independent advisory board of the Thomas Mann House for fellowships in the coming year:

René Aguigah is a German cultural journalist and presenter. He has been the department head of literature, philosophy and religion at DEUTSCHLANDFUNK KULTUR since 2019.

"James Baldwin's work is an eminent contribution to understanding racism on both macro and micro levels. In doing so, it endures tensions that I will sharpen during my residency at the Thomas Mann House: These include the polarities between artistic work and political intervention, between literature as fiction and as nonfiction, between particularism and universalism, and also the marginalized perspectives united in Baldwin as Black, poor, and homosexual."

Ghayath Almadhoun is a Palestinian-Swedish poet. After a fellowship from the DAAD Artists Program, he now lives in Berlin and Stockholm.

"In LA I will explore the origins of my double exile; a stateless child born in Damascus and forced to flee from Syrian exile to a Western one. In the form of a diary, I record the paradox of this new life through mirroring memories. I am no longer Middle Eastern, nor will I ever be 100 percent Western. I am a new species coming out of exile and living in parallel."

Maria do Mar Castro Varela is Professor of General Education and Social Work at the Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin & Nikita Dhawan is Professor of Political Theory and History of Ideas at the Technische Universität Dresden.

"To find answers to pressing questions around the political mandate of art, we look at artivism, the marriage of art and social action, whose origins lie in the social movements of the 1970s and 1980s in Los Angeles and Berlin. We will explore whether and how aesthetic education can help imagine a planetary future."

Carolin Görgen is Associate Professor for American Studies at the Sorbonne Université Paris.

"I will explore the role of photography in the U.S. West, particularly in California, questioning the historically pervasive image of the photographer as a lone explorer in seemingly untouched nature. I consider photographic work against the backdrop of ongoing environmental conflicts over expansion, violent transformation of the landscape, and dispossession. The goal is to re-politicize the aesthetic imagery of the West and highlight alternative roles for art makers in an era shaped by climate change."

Marlene Grunert is political editor of the FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG.

"The question about a 'political mandate of art' could be answered simply: It can have one, but it doesn't have to. Art is free. I would like to devote myself to the consequences that politicization entails. If a university paints over a poem on its facade - is artistic freedom then endangered? Or is the reference to the law supposed to lend objective weight to an ideological point of view? What needs to be clarified is not only the concept of artistic freedom, but also the tension between the constitution and social change."

Alice Hasters is a journalist, book author and podcaster. She works for TAGESSCHAU and RBB, among others.

"Who dances and how, what we consider culturally and artistically relevant, is heavily influenced by racism. 'Black people can dance, white people can't' is an assumption that persists to this day and is especially present in multi-ethnic societies. Dance seems to be something that is incompatible with power. The rich, the white, the male, the heterosexual, the old - they don't dance. I want to find out to what extent dance as a lived or non-lived practice shapes black, white, and other identities. And whether dance can be a tool to dismantle and challenge positions of power."

Kai Hinrich Müller is a musicologist and curator. Current projects are Musica non grata (with the National Theater Prague) and Musikleben am Bauhaus - Bauhaus im Musikleben (with the Bauhaus Archive / Museum für Gestaltung, Berlin).

"Hardly any other topic has shaped social discourse in recent years as much as the Corona pandemic. Musicians have also repeatedly entered the debates to draw attention to themselves, their silencing and the importance of their art for a democratic togetherness - that it is systemically relevant especially in the late modern 21st century. The Fellowship will consider the politicization and thus the 'political voice' of musicians from a transatlantic perspective."

Sophie-Charlotte Opitz is a curator, art scholar and artistic director of the Museum Villa Rot.

"I explore transnational image strategies that place hope as a democratic principle of action at their center. In doing so, I turn to protest movements such as the Abortion Rights Movement. From photography to posters to TikTok videos and memes, I devote myself to their visual strategies with a view to discursive continuities and ruptures. When hope as a principle of action is at the center of protest movements, I argue, hegemonic interpretive imperatives can be broken."

In addition, Maria Exner and Felix Rohrbeck will make up for fellowships postponed due to the pandemic and work on the following projects related to the 2021 annual theme, "Restoring Public Trust."

Maria Exner was most recently editor-in-chief at Zeit Magazin and, since April 2022, has been the founding director of PUBLIX, Haus für Journalismus & Öffentlichkeit, which is currently being built in Berlin-Neukölln.

"I am concerned with the question of what contribution journalism and the media can make to maintaining social cohesion in times of technology-driven opinion polarization - and what journalistic self-image this contribution must be based on. Drawing on the perspectives of experts in California and the U.S., the aim is to draw generalizable lessons and make them available to the public and to the next generation of journalists."

Felix Rohrbeck holds a degree in economics and communications. From 2014 to 2019, he was an editor in the economics department of DIE ZEIT. In this role, he was involved in uncovering the Cum-Ex scandal. Since 2020, he has been co-founder and editor-in-chief of the media startup FLIP.

"On both sides of the Atlantic, a dispute is raging about whether and how the rich should contribute more to financing the welfare state. Both in the U.S. and in the EU, the debate is an expression of a high level of dissatisfaction. The fact that inequality is increasing and that the rich often pay hardly any taxes is perceived as unfair and undermines acceptance of the welfare state. What answers can policymakers give to this? And what might a (joint) approach to increasing the participation of the rich look like?"

The 2023 Fellows were selected by the independent Advisory Board of the Thomas Mann House: Prof. Dr. Helmut Anheier (Professor of Sociology at the Hertie School of Governance, Member of the U.S. Advisory Board of the TMH), Christiane Benner (Second Chair of IG Metall), Lorena Jaume-Palasí (Founder of The Ethical Tech Society), Prof. Dr. Peter Jelavich (Professor of History at Johns Hopkins University), Esra Küçük (Executive Member of the Board of the Allianz Cultural Foundation and Member of the Board of the Allianz Environmental Foundation), Heike Catherina Mertens (Member of the Board of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation), Prof. Dr. Ulrich Raulff (President of the IfA - Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations), Alex Ross (Journalist The New Yorker, Member of the US Advisory Board of the TMH).

The Thomas Mann Fellowships are funded by the Berthold Leibinger Stiftung, the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach-Stiftung, and the German Federal Foreign Office.

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