Written by Howard McCalebb   

Unsanctioned” is a self declared event of the 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art (2012), initiated by the African-American artist Howard McCalebb.


Polish artist Artur Żmijewski is the curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale. He appointed the Voina group from Russia and Joanna Warsza from Warsaw, Poland as Associate Curators, who have worked together with him to develop the concept and the program.


Unsanctioned is an art event that is to take place throughout the city of Berlin, as an “unsanctioned” event of the 7th Berlin Biennale to include and represent “artists of color.” All artists of color (Black, Asian, Latin–American, and or “mixtures”) are invited to join Unsanctioned as a guerrilla action to protest the systematic exclusion of marginalized social identities (artists of color), residing and working in Berlin, from participation in mainstream Berlin art institutions. This guerrilla action is a staged incursion into this important Berlin cultural event, through self-inclusion. It is an action to expose the hypocrisy of the fake “radicalism” that the 7th Berlin Biennale is assuming and posing.


Time and again, we are subjected to these so-called radical art world hipsters, who use institutional power to stage ersatz art world rebellions. The art world hipster and his fake authority defying stunts, only pretends to be a progressive with radical views on political, economic, and social reform. A true reformist rebels against the self-perpetuating theater of the opinion-making organs of cultural authority. When the prevailing norm is obsolete and or cannot be justified on moral grounds, progressive minded people must take action. Progressive Liberalism is not just sex, drugs, and Rock n’ Roll - it involves real world insights that are a necessary confrontation with the status quo. There is a necessity to question the predispositions of institutional authority. The program of the 7th Berlin Biennale does nothing of the sort. It continues the policies of exclusion.


Unsanctioned is a call to “litter” the city of Berlin with “unsanctioned” publicly performed or placed artworks!


Join us in this campaign.

Please spread this information via your personal channels.



The parameters for participation in Unsanctioned:


1. All “artist of color” are encouraged to participate in Unsanctioned. They should be Black, Asian, Latin–American, and or a mixture. However, no discrimination of any kind will be practiced.


2. The artwork can be abstract, but subjects or images representing people of color are preferable. All artists are to reflect upon the evolving ethnic and cultural heterogeneity of Berlin as the new center of the Western art world.


3. As an appropriation of the tactics of the Russian art collective Voina, which is also a member of the curatorial team of the 7th Berlin Biennale, all artworks are to be sited in locations selected by the artist, throughout Berlin – as street action art that is directed against the systematic mainstream cultural exclusion of artists of color.


4. All artworks (expressions) are to take the material form of the “non-precious,” as “unsanctioned“ impromptu public performances, two-dimensional stickers, leaflets, and or posters - or as three-dimensional “bricolage” constructions (sculptures) made from eco-friendly recyclable materials.


5. All artworks are to be placed where they are to be found by anonymous “viewers/collectors” to be discarded or treasured, as the anonymous finder chooses. It is recommended that the placements be documented.


6. All documented artworks and placements are to include the word Unsanctioned, and be initialed or signed and dated by the artist.


7. Official recognition: all artists who want to be officially recognized as a participant in Unsanctioned must share the documentation of their participation.

Send documentation to Unsanctioned at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


From the 7th Berlin Biennale newsletter:

“In recent years, the debate on new forms of interaction between art, knowledge and politics has intensified. In the context of Eastern Europe, this resulted in the simultaneous emergence of several independent initiatives that aim at merging the fields of art, scientific discourse and political activism. In the context of highly atomized and anti-solidary post-Socialist societies these fields are regarded as distinct but related forms of engagement and collective action. In Poland, Artur Żmijewski’s text Applied Social Arts manifested the need for politically engaged art in the context marked by a negative legacy of Socialist Realism. In Russia and Ukraine, activities of numerous artistic and political initiatives aim at introducing a new order into a public sphere marked by a lack of democratic procedures. The discussion will focus on the activities of those initiatives in the context of the withering away of the democratic public sphere in both Eastern and Western Europe.”


As a re-emerged Western European city, Berlin is geographically located very far to the East. Because we are very close to the Eastern European countries, and East Germany was a part of the communist block that included Eastern Europe, the Eastern cultures are prominently represented in Berlin. In recent years, cultural exchanges between the re-unified Berlin and Germany’s Eastern European neighbours have remained normal and steady.


With the selection of Artur Żmijewski as Curator of the 7th Berlin Biennale, and his subsequent selection as Associate Curators Voina and Joanna Warsza, we have a curatorial team with very little experience with not only the practices of a mature Democracy, but also little or no experience with the living dynamics of an evolving heterogeneous society that the Berlin of today represents. Berlin’s large number of diverse and interdependent ethnicities, simultaneously modifying each other, produce shifts in value and substance, all of which could be experienced and understood through (as) a Berlin art. New art practices could develop to elaborate this evolved cultural condition.


As a black person, it has been my general experience in Eastern European countries that the people and the cultural institutions have little or no ability to comprehend the world beyond their homogeneous condition. I find it difficult to believe that this Eastern European curatorial team can do better. Homogeneous societies and cultures that lack the internal conflict of a diverse citizenry are not in the best position to move the global discourse forward - from an internal experience. The only means for these societies to participate in the evolving human experience is to “intellectually” understand themselves as individual and collective members of the newly globalized society.


How does the 7th Berlin Biennale represents German society and “official’ German culture today, within its anti-immigrant tendencies?


A new wave of racism is the latest sign of social regression in Germany. The government has moved to impose new restrictions on immigration and some ethnic groups, and xenophobic views are increasing among the German public. Public concerns about integrating non-whites into German society and culture, is on the rise. Germany is romancing nostalgia for tribal purity, and is drifting apart from viable contemporary life, by constructing an identity crisis that evades contemporary “global” reality. This ersatz tribalism is a fiction of the past that is assessable only through fantasy. Such a pattern of retrospection that laments the loss of a “good” culture, and a belief that ethnic purity is morally sustainable, is a regression to the primitive state. The Nation State (Germany) becomes territory: a geographic area that is controlled by a people, an ethnic group, or ersatz tribe – like an area that an animal considers as its own and that it defends against intruders of the same species.


From the 7th Berlin Biennale newsletter:

 “Since its inception in 1998, the Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art has become one of the most important events of contemporary art worldwide, taking place every two years in Berlin. The central theme of the 7th Berlin Biennale is the investigation of the socio-critical potential of art and its possibility to actively influence political processes.” Or perhaps not!


In addition to Joanna Warsza, lead curator Artur Żmijewski also appointed the Voina group from Russia to his curatorial team of the 7th Berlin Biennale.


From the 7th Berlin Biennale newsletter:

 “The art collective Voina (engl.: war) from Russia was founded in 2005 by Oleg Vorotnikov and Natalya Sokol. Voina engages in street action art that is directed against the Russian authorities. Their creed is, as Natalya Sokol declares: “The artist who denies political awareness is just a designer.” “We do not expect that the Voina group will be practicing an ordinary curatorship. Maybe they will knock at the doors of artists’ studios, but not to check the art works, but to remind us about the ethos of the artist. They are among the last few believers who practice an art that is a direct political job. Their best artwork is the reminder that as the art world, we are on the way to just become a neoliberal elite who plays for financial gain and the accumulation of symbolic capital.“ (Artur Żmijewski and Joanna Warsza)”


Unsanctioned will “litter” the city of Berlin with “unsanctioned” representations of and by “people of color” through publicly performed or placed artworks.


Unsanctioned artworks will be performed, posted, or placed, and seem to have been carelessly left as litter, scattered around untidily, in public places. The idea of Unsanctioned is to put the Berlin art world in disorder by leaving scattered objects in it – and to fill it with multiple representations of the “other,” to strengthen the voices of Berlin’s marginalized social identities.


The 7th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art takes place from

April 27 to July 1, 2012.