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Surveying the Non-Human

On the Aesthetics of Racism.
Proposition IV

May 13 to August 7, 2016
Exhibition from Wolfgang Scheppe for the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden in the Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau

The term “racism” is nothing but a moral reproach. The word itself does not criticise the underlying ideology, which excludes individuals bearing visual evidence of their supposed otherness. The latter is claimed to stem from biological differences among people, but in fact only comes about as a political judgement of those regarded as not belonging to one’s own nation.

For this reason, this exhibition addresses the relationship between scientific attempts to construct race and common racist notions on the basis of hitherto little known visual material. The two phenomena share an epistemological conviction which lies at the root of all positivism: That the nature of truth appears on the surface of things, hence allowing types of otherness deserving social segregation to be detected from external attributes. This attitude assumes that people can be classified according to their appearance — on the basis of morphological characteristics, most prominently their skin colour — hence the key role played by the image in all forms of racism. It is also why we can talk of the “aesthetics of racist thought”.


At the heart of this complex project is the as yet unexamined obsessive collection of pictures by the Dresden ethnologist and anthropologist Bernhard Struck (1888—1971); unfolding this pictorial system opens the door to the mind and imagination of this figure, whose normality makes him a perfect example of a thinker on race. His production of phenotypes of the Other, largely founded on anthropometric measurements, follows a fundamental line of perception regrettably still widely recognised by our contemporary society.

  • Blick in die Sonderausstellung „Die Vermessung des Unmenschen. Zur Ästhetik des Rassismus. Proposition IV“, 13. Mai - 7. August 2016 in der Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden, Copyright: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.
  • Blick in die Sonderausstellung „Die Vermessung des Unmenschen. Zur Ästhetik des Rassismus. Proposition IV“, 13. Mai - 7. August 2016 in der Kunsthalle im Lipsiusbau, Dresden, Copyright: Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, Foto: Adrian Sauer
 - Bild öffnet sich in einer Vergrößerungsansicht.


Three works of fine art provide the initial material for a critical assessment of the manipulative use of visual metaphors, which give the alleged difference — alterity — its very plausibility. The first is the scandal-provoking sculpture of a gorilla abducting a female figure by the 19th-century sculptor Emmanuel Frémiet (1824—1910), who was highly successful in his day. The second is the major work "Manipolazione di Cultura / Manipulation der Kultur" (Manipulation of Culture) by the Italian artist Fabio Mauri (1926—2009), which has never been shown before in Germany. The third piece is a video triptych with sequences by the German film pioneer Arnold Fanck (1889—1974), which presents the circulus vitiosus of German history, seemingly caught in a endlessly repeating loop with the racist perception of the Other.