Museum of Modern Art of Bahia, Salvador

Museu de Arte Moderna da Bahia (MAM-BA) / Solar do Unhao
CEP 40060-060 Salvador

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press release only in german

Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology. Salvador da Bahia
07.11.2017 – 17.12.2017

The exhibition Implosão: Trans(relacion)ando Hubert Fichte, curated by Max Jorge Hinderer and Amilcar Packer at the MAM Museum of Modern Art in Salvador de Bahia and Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro in November 2017, focuses on Fichte’s 900-page novel Explosion (1993). Beginning with Marcelos Backes’ translation of this crucial volume in Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (publisher: Hedra), a number of Brazilian and international artists have developed works that respond to Fichte and Mau’s research into the Afro-diasporic religion Candomblé, as well as Fichte’s conflict with French photographer and ethnologist Pierre Verger.


Salvador de Bahia 1971-1972. Explosion (1985/1993) — The second stop in the project Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology refers to Hubert Fichte and Leonore Mau’s stay in Salvador de Bahia, depicted in the second part of Fichte’s novel Explosion as „La Double Méprise“ (pages 119-414). It is in this section where Explosion earns its subtitle „Roman der Ethnologie“ (A Novel of Ethnology), for, along with numerous others (priestesses, professors, mages, artists, and cultural figures), it is ethnologists above all who appear as characters. Fichte struggles with his various attempts to grasp candomblé on the one hand, and, the political situation in this „black Rome“ on the other; to take part in and experience as individuals the various local communities of ethnologists, the observer-researchers and participant-researchers, whom he regards as equally imposing and suspicious.

In particular, Fichte finds himself enmeshed in a love-hate relationship with a likewise homosexual ethnologist, photographer, and priest, whom he dubs „Pope Pieri,“ concealing the figure of the influential French scholar Pierre Verger, who remains to this day enormously influential in Salvador: Fichte/Jäcki reproaches him for having never acknowledging his own homosexuality in his research and making explicit the role that love and desire have played in it. Along the way, Fichte attempts, via a number of approaches from ethnobotany to aesthetics, to map a route to „the African knowledge ‘as computer’“ and the secrets of candomblé.

His goal is to see this „Afro-American aesthetic“ celebrated as a universal alternative to that of the West. At the same time, Jäcki is afflicted by systematic epistemological doubts. In the end, Pope Pieri, the novel’s main antagonist, exits and vanishes into Africa. Fichte and Mau rented an unfurnished house in the northern part of Salvador, in an attempt to get to know and document the city. Various commentators and interpreters, such as Jorge Amado, Caribé, or the German woodcut-artist Hansen-Bahia, have assembled trivialized, exoticized narratives, which Fichte tries to break apart. Nevertheless, he must accept that such stories are much loved locally. Moreover, like his literary career back in Germany, Jäcki finds himself in danger — his new novel has been panned, and as Explosion progresses, he begins writing another novel, one that reaches back to his childhood and links it to his present-day research in Salvador de Bahia — Versuch über die Pubertät (An Essay on Puberty), if one might call a comparative study that combines an ethnology of one’s indigenous culture with a foreign one, and depicts their entirety in a tone of deep estrangement. In this work, Fichte portrays himself as a homosexual, or bisexual, man, a „Mischling ersten Grades“ on account of his Jewish father, who was sent off to Catholic boarding school by his mother during the Third Reich. Here, for the first time, he experiences ritual both as menace and safety. The novel Fichte wrote out of these relationships exerts a profound influence on his other novel, i.e., Explosion, at the moment of its conception, similar to Die Palette vis-à-vis Eine glückliche Liebe.


About the project

The online journal Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology accompanies the eponymous cooperation between Goethe-Institut and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, with the support of the S. Fischer Stiftung and the S. Fischer Verlag and with the collaboration of numerous partners, and runs from 2017 to 2019 at the following exhibition and presentation sites: Lisbon, Salvador de Bahia, Rio de Janeiro, Santiago de Chile, New York, Dakar, and Berlin.

The point of departure for Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology is the ethnologist and author’s all-encompassing novel-cycle Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (The History of Sensitivity), which Fichte worked on from the early 1970s until his death in 1986. Nineteen of the planned 24 volumes were largely finished by Fichte upon his death; the remaining five are incomplete or have gone missing. Between 1987 and 2006, seventeen volumes, some fragmentary, were published, which engendered a renewed critical reception in the German-speaking world. The project Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology focuses on several of these novels, which have been translated for the first time at the initiative of the S. Fischer Stiftung, to engender a similar critical reception in a number of the countries where Fichte and Leonore Mau pursued their travels and research interests from the 1960s into the 1980s.

For Fichte it was a matter of principle to stimulate a new post-colonial world literature and world art by means of a intensively engaged dialogue with the arts, as well as a manifestation of the sensitivity which finds expression in his novel-cycle. And thus Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology moves toward the Black Atlantic (Paul Gilroy), the widespread regions of the African and Afro-diasporic cultures which fundamentally affected both Fichte and Mau’s output as well as their understanding of ethnology.

Proceeding Fichte’s novel Eine Glückliche Liebe (1984/1988; A Happy Love), recently translated by José Maria Vieira Mendes (publisher: Cotovía), the exhibition Mistake! Mistake! said the rooster… and stepped down from the duck features the artists Gabriel Barbi, Ramiro Guerrero, Ana Jotta, Eurydice Kala, and Simon Thompson, together with Fichte and Mau’s work from their stay in Salazar’s Portugal in the 1960s. The exhibition, curated by Jürgen Bock at the Lisbon venue Lumiar Cité, confronts key themes from Fichte’s work, such as torture, human rights, and bisexuality, as well as interrogations of Fichte and Mau’s aesthetic interventions. Fichte’s attempts at expanding the literary work itself as well as art write as a kind of “total method” have been worked out in Lisbon, the project’s first station, and leave their mark on the subsequent ones.

The exhibition Implosão: Trans(relacion)ando Hubert Fichte, curated by Max Jorge Hinderer and Amilcar Packer at the MAM Museum of Modern Art in Salvador de Bahia and Centro Municipal de Arte Hélio Oiticica in Rio de Janeiro in November 2017, focuses on Fichte’s 900-page novel Explosion (1993). Beginning with Marcelos Backes’ translation of this crucial volume in Die Geschichte der Empfindlichkeit (publisher: Hedra), a number of Brazilian and international artists have developed works that respond to Fichte and Mau’s research into the Afro-diasporic religion Candomblé, as well as Fichte’s conflict with French photographer and ethnologist Pierre Verger.

The exhibition at the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Santiago de Chile, curated by Mario Navarro, opens in 2018 and is related to Fichte’s sections on Chile and his novel Explosion, translated by Cecilia Pavón (publisher: Metales Pesados), as its point of departure, together with the radio feature Chile: Experiment auf die Zukunft (Chile: An Experiment with the Future), first broadcast on Norddeutscher Rundfunk (Northern German Broadcasting) in 1972. Drawn to Allende’s political project, Fichte and Mau spent part of that year in the South American country. Fichte’s interviews with Allende and Carlos Jorquera, former press secretary for the Allende government, are testimonials to Fichte’s intense engagement with Latin American socialism, and are the central point of reference in this affiliate project station in Santiago de Chile.

Adam Siegel’s English-language translation of Die schwarze Stadt: Glossen (1990; Black City: Glosses, publisher: Sternberg Press) is the point of departure for exhibitions at Participant INC and E-Flux Space, curated by Yesomi Umolu (2018). Between 1978 and 1980 Fichte spent a substantial amount of time in New York City. It was here where he experienced his engagement with Afro-diasporic cultures as a culmination, for it is in New York where they all may be found — for the first time they appeared to Fichte in their entirety as a single counter-universality, coherent alternative to Western art. Fichte expands these insights at greater length in his interviews with artists, activists, and chance acquaintances.

The station Dakar extends to Fichte and Mau’s lengthy stays in countries such as Benin, Togo, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea Bissau, and Tanzania, as well as Fichte’s political insists and his investigations into Yoruba culture, particularly its medical and psychiatric practices.

The final station on the project will be in Berlin at Haus der Kulturen der Welt in 2019, curated by Diedrich Diederichsen and Anselm Franke, the artistic directors of Hubert Fichte: Love and Ethnology, who take up the themes and artistic stances of the six preceding stations and critically challenge them in their broader historical and current contexts. The planned exhibition and public conference expand upon the questions that have arisen and open them up into the present moment.