The name is programmatic: Slavs and Tatars are devoted to the “area to the east of the former Berlin Wall and to the west of the Great Wall of China.” In their interdisciplinary object, image and text-based works, the artist collective unites diverse, in part contrary perspectives of different ideological, religious, historical and political fields. In its ethnic, cultural and linguistic diversity, the geographical “Eurasia” region provides the narrative and pictorial material. In Haus Esters, the pieces by Slavs and Tatars abduct visitors directly into a Moorish Revival décor that ironically contrasts the elegant austerity of Mies van der Rohe’s architecture. At the same time, it also references the ideological connotations of Josef Esters’s former study. Soft Power, the entrance to the room consisting of a rug, brings together motifs from various traditional Moroccan, Kuwaiti and Iranian doors.
In keeping with the Iranian model, the circular doorknocker on the right is reserved for women while the one of the left with an elongated knocker can only be used by men. The patriarchal tendency of the site experiences a further reflection through the sculpture from the Kitab Kebab’s series that is positioned in the middle of the space. A conventional kebab skewer pierces a row of books, including the first volume of Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies about fascist self-consciousness and the martial shaping of the male ego. In addition, books are gathered together here that address the misogynistic, patriarchal character of modern architecture.
The subversive artistic impulse perhaps lays in the physical attack, through which the skewer not only produces a lateral relationship between the texts but also a material one. The room-spanning wall piece Honey Dew tackles the problematic power structures of oppression and propaganda from a state and historical perspective. The wallpaper shows in its report the detail of an Uzbek melon stand. The fragment comes from a 1934 volume celebrating the tenth anniversary of Soviet rule in the Republic of Uzbekistan. Designed by the avant-garde artists Alexander Rodchenko (1891-1956) and Varvara Stepanova (1894–1958), the book contains a number of photographs of Uzbek functionaries, many of whom, however, had disastrously already fallen victim to Stalin’s purges by the time it was published. In order to distract any suspicion from himself, Rodchenko obliterated the names and faces of the murdered men and women in his copy of the book with black ink. Corruption and treason were backed by Rodchenko as an artist, an aspect that lends the work a gloomy undertone. Slavs and Tatars distill a scenario from completely different sources in which male dominance and totalitarian state conduct under a partly noble exterior generate an ominous, seemingly almost hopeless dystopian undertone.
The Slavs and Tatars artist collective from Berlin was founded from a reading circle in 2006. The work of the collective falls in to three large categories—exhibitions, artist books and performative lectures. Aside from participating in numerous international group exhibitions and biennales, for example the Venice Biennale (2019 and 2014), the Biennial of Graphic Arts, Ljubljana (2017), the Berlin Biennale (2014) or the Manifesta (2014), their works have been presented internationally since 2008 in solo exhibitions: Albertina, Dresden (2018), Salt Galata, Istanbul (2017), Ujazdowski Centre for Contemporary Art, Warsaw (2016), Blaffer Art Museum, Houston (2016) etc.