Article on ‚Chronicle of a Place –
cultural education for people from refugee camps’
online magazine by Inge Pett (PDF)

Article in the Online Magazine ‚Art in Berlin‘ by Inge Pett, 20.04.2016

Onion Flowers – Chronicle of a Place – Cultural Education for People Living in Refugee Camps

“Make it happy today“. Sharmila (all names have been changed by the editors) does not know what a cheerful motto is written on her t-shirt, but when she heard the Farsi translation of the slogan, she was all smiles. Only a couple of months ago, the Iranian woman came to Berlin and since then has been living in the refugee camp in the former city hall of Wilmersdorf. Sharmila is one of the participants of the one-week project ‚Chronicle of a Place – Cultural Education for People Living in Refugee Camps‘ (18th – 22nd of April 2016), initiated by Berlin-based artist Jenny Brockmann. Monday started with a field trip to the Botanical Garden in Dahlem, where each of the women chose a plant and copied it by drawing.

This was a great hurdle for 54-year-old Leila from Afghanistan, as in Germany, the mother of nine held a pencil in her hand for the first time in her life. Thea, a retired teacher who voluntarily looks after the literacy course at Fehrbelliner Platz, gives an account of Leila’s initial troubles. Not only couldn’t she read or write, but also she had to get used to the opposite direction of writing in the German language. Currently, the course has reached the letter ‚W‘, which Leila oftentimes transforms into an ‚M‘ in overeagerness.

The art project also is about abstract thinking, as on Tuesday, the second day, the women drew models of their flowers for stencils, the designs of which they will spray-paint on the sponsor Stromnetz GmbH’s junction boxes located in the neighborhood of the camp on Thursday.

Leila’s shyness regarding the pencil has apparently vanished. With visible pride, she draws the contours of her harmoniously proportioned flower on the cardboard on the wall, onto which Jenny Brockmann projects images.
An Iranian woman chose a pink lily, an Afghan women an onion plant. The women agree that their visit to the Botanical Garden was their best experience since fleeing yet.

“They reported on the landscapes of their homelands, their gardens, their crop and decorative plants“, Jenny Brockmann explains. Solely one young woman, who had to witness the murder of her own parents, apathetically gazed into the air. “She hasn’t completely arrived yet“, explains the translator. But however, one senses that it is a good thing for the Afghan to be part of the community.

On Wednesday, the group will take another field trip, this time to the Waldschule in Plänterwald with a picnic following, on Thursday the women will spray-paint the junction boxes; after that, on Friday, the course will end with a walk to the boxes decorated with floral motifs. Overall, Brockmann will put five projects into practice this year, three of which will take place in the refugee camps in Karlshorst. She could not even imagine the type of resonance she would come across: “The women’s enthusiasm about visiting the Botanical Garden alone justifies the whole project“, she rejoices. As an artist, she is predominantly interested in discourse.

Sharmila, who only started wearing her heavy golden cross pendant confidently above her t-shirt a few days ago, is the creative ’star‘ of the group. With dynamic gesture, she drew a feathered palm. She was married as a 16-year-old in Iran and became a mother, she recounts outspokenly. But she took life into her own hands, left her husband and found a new partner who supported her and was proud of her; for example of her starting an art study course for refugees at the Weißensee School of Art. Her career goal: “A designer for Chanel“, she laughs. She says she has been interested in art, fashion and design ever since she was a young girl, following fashion channels and designing shoes herself back home. Now she turned 40 and her dreams are coming true. Hence, the slogan on her t-shirt is a program: “Make it happy today“.