A woman with a piece of yellow cloth from Eastern Anatolia covering her face. A plastic chair next to the Baltic sea. A man doubled over, performing midday prayers in a mosque. Another figure running through a green field, his keffiyeh covering his face.
Everyone who has reached out has been full of solidarity for me and my work.
For Raphaël Malik, a Berlin-based photographer, these photographs were not intended to have any political meaning whatsoever. It’s true, he was interested in broad themes of migration, faith and spirituality, but the pictures drew from a wide range of sources. Among photos taken in Berlin, there were images from Paris, Istanbul and the Ostsee. The show did not even have a title. Which is why it was all the more surprising when he received the message, shortly after he had collected the colour prints for his exhibition at Pixelgrain showroom in Mitte, that the show would be cancelled.
“We are fully aware that your photo series has nothing to do with the current political situation,” the gallery wrote to Malik in a message he later shared on Instagram, but “in order to avoid conflicts, we do not currently want to present [a show featuring] Muslim life without a corresponding counterpoint… for example, showing Jewish life in Berlin.”
“I would not have been against that,” Malik told us, “but it was just surprising to me. These pictures are all between one and three years old. So I didn’t even consider that it would be controversial. I think what worried the gallery was maybe the one picture with the man running, his face covered with the keffiyeh. But this is Berlin. These scarves have a long tradition in the Middle East and are worn by many cultures, it is a symbol and also fashion.
Unintentionally, Malik had got caught up in a controversy which seems to be spreading all across the city. Many of Berlin’s cultural institutions have been publicly attacked for their statements around the worsening situation in the Middle East. What was so confusing here, though, was that Malik had not intended to make any political statement at all.
Since he shared his post, however, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. “I’ve received messages from many people with different backgrounds. Really non-stop. Everyone who has reached out has been full of solidarity for me and my work. That’s what gives me hope. And that is what I wanted to do with my work, to show the diversity that is already all around us.”