Artist and activist Bonn woman fights against racism in society
Bonn · "I noticed early on that I was different": Bonn-based artist and activist Eliza Kuhland fights against racism in society. She also sees problems in Bonn.
Eliza Kuhland is young, educated and says of herself that she is privileged. She attended the Waldorf School in Tannenbusch until she graduated from high school because there were none in her county where she lived at the time. Today she lives in a shared flat in Bonn. She has dedicated herself to one thing: the fight against racism.
After her internship at the Bonn Schauspielhaus, acting director Jens Groß offered her a position as assistant director. This meant that her planned studies had to be postponed for the time being. She feels comfortable at the theatre. In ten years she sees herself "in the artistic direction". Kuhland would like to create play plans because she believes in the power and influence of the theatre on social development. And because too few black people work in the theatre, black themes are underrepresented. She has never met her father from Cameroon. She grew up with her mother and grandparents.
Eliza Kuhland does not want to read her real name in the newspaper any more than she wants to see a photo published on which she would be more clearly recognisable. She prefers to speak publicly yet anonymously. The reason: "I believe that conditions in Germany are coming to a head. I don't want to position myself as a target," she says. Her person is less important than what she has to say. And she understands that she is makes herself prone to physical attack with every criticism of society. "I don't want to read the hate comments," she says.
The Corona pandemic prevented the exhibition "Black only" in Kult 41, which wanted to draw attention to "Black Life in Bonn" on 25 May, the annual commemoration day of the founding of the Organisation for African Unity. Kuhland was one of the exhibiting artists. The project has now been postponed to 2021. Their objectives would have been to commemorate the death of Oury Jalloh in a Dessau police cell. Tragically, this year's date of the African Union Day became the anniversary of the death of George Floyd, who was murdered in the USA during a police operation.
Kuhland became co-organizer of the action alliance "Black lives matter“ in NRW, which succeeded in a short time in protesting against racism in the USA and also in Germany with more than 10,000 demonstrators in Cologne. Even as a little girl, she had been politicized by her grandmother, born in 1921. Her pictorial descriptions of her war experiences impressed her as a child and have remained with her to this day.
She noticed early on that she was different, she says. Different from the other children. Although she grew up very protected and did not experience any racist hostility. Her family also only started to deal with racism at a late age. In summary, she says that for a long time her perspective was that of a white majority society. "I certainly don't want to compare my experiences with people who have fewer privileges or are darker than me." Yet there are "certain structures" that she has felt.
Working with the Young Greens and Amnesty
Due to their education, however, it was usually possible for them to defend themselves against hostilities. She had already tried early on "to be black". She became involved with Amnesty International and was active with the Young Greens. "I simply always had a great deal of discussion, defending myself against such abhorrent terms as 'refugee wave' and, together with many like-minded people, campaigning for gender-just language," she says.
Kuhland was already on stage at the Marabu Theatre in the Beueler Brotfabrik as a youngster. The development and performance of politically ambitious plays contributed to her character. In her utopia, she says, there is no difference between the sexes or races. Unfortunately, in Germany, "very few people want to acknowledge that there is a problem of racism." In Germany, too, the police must be reformed. Although random identity checks based solely on a phenotypic appearance violate the Basic Law, she said, it is on record that discrimination based on skin colour or religious affiliation occurs in everyday life in Germany.
For Kuhland, it is not too much to ask if it was part of the educational mandate to deal with the view of blacks in a white society. For a long time she too had wondered why we could not all be equal. In the meantime, she knows that to do this, one must first understand inequality, "to see what adjustments need to be made in order to change the discourse so that we can meet at eye level". As a black person, she sees it as her duty to do something for those who are not able to do so themselves. "And that is not exactly funny," Eliza says.
Original text: Stefan Hermes. Translation: Mareike Graepel