Counting my blessings

Working during the holidays - another Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention in the making.

Working during the holidays – another Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention in the making.

Gratitude and Compassion

Very often I look around me and feel deep gratitude for the blessings in my life. My life is in no way spectacular, and yet I have so much to be grateful for. A roof over my head, comfort, enough food, contact to my family and friends and lots of freedom of choice of the work I do and if I would like to stay in Namibia or in Germany.

Fate has it, that I met a German man, got married to him and had the choice to legally live and work in Germany. Being an artist is nowhere easy, but part of the reason why I choose to join my man in Germany, was that here I have access to a much larger market, more galleries and museums and other such opportunities, than in Namibia.

Many people do not have such choices or a comfortable life. Some of these people are living in war torn countries or in places with no hope for a better life no matter how hard they work, or they are prosecuted for their sexual orientation or believes… How could anybody possibly want to deny them the very difficult choice to leave that life behind and follow their dream of a safe and better life somewhere else? If you were in their situation, what would you do? And how would you want to be treated?

Refugees and forced migration

Every time there is talk about the ‘refugee crisis’ in the news or amongst friends and all the hate towards asylum seekers, I am not only saddened, but I also feel a deep-rooted fear rising up in my body. The fear of not belonging and not being welcomed… A familiar and deep-rooted fear in me from an early age, although I am not sure how and why it is part of me. My heart reaches out to these people who have suffered so much and been so courageous to take up the risky and life-threatening journey to try and seek asylum in a different country. At the same time I feel a deep distress about the hate, violence and lack of understanding and empathy that many people in Europe express towards these fellow human beings.

Maybe because I realise that I was just lucky. If I had fallen in love with a different man, things would be different. If had been born in a different country, I might be the one who now has to choose between a horrible war and a risky and cumbersome escape with no guarantees. All such things that we do not really have a choice about.

Detail from my latest Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention: Refugees
Detail from my latest Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention: Refugees

Namibia is safe. Thank goodness.

I also am very aware of how quickly things can change from my personal life. Not long ago in Zimbabwe, white farmers were brutally forced to leave their land and belongings and flee. They had to try and start a new life and find a totally new way of earning their livelihood. Since that time white farmers in Namibia live in a kind of suppressed or open anxiety that our government might decide to follow Zimbabwe’s example. And many white, mainly elderly, farmers have been murdered since. People I know, friends, their family members. This was the subject of my Power & Politics Series in 2003. The scale can tip so easily and fast.

Where do we go from here...? Digital Print, 2003, from the Power & Politics series.

Where do we go from here…? Digital Print, 2003, from the Power & Politics series. (c) Imke Rust

Namibia is a safe country and thank goodness, we have no war. Still there is also a very real danger of getting robbed, raped and/or murdered. People get murdered in Namibia on a daily basis. Every few weeks you hear of somebody who you actually knew or who was close to friends or family who got murdered. I know that the violence reaches through all communities, but, as I look from my perspective and family, I know that white farmers are a soft and common target and that there is a constant fear hanging over our heads, that some day it might just be you /me (or in this case my family). Wouldn’t it be safer for them in another country? Will they one day be chased away from the farm my father bought with his hard-earned money just as it happened in Zimbabwe a few years back? And if so, will some country grant us asylum? Will we be able to still afford a plane ticket or will we survive a journey by other means? I don’t know and I hope we never need to find out.

What I did find out was, that my chances as a white artist in Namibia were limited. After I had won the most prestigeous art competition in Namibia, I thought it was my break-through and people would judge me according to my achievements. But it turned out, that it was not considered ‘politically correct’ to sent a white artist to a symposium overseas, when enquiring telephonically how to apply for a bursary, the kind gentleman told me: “I can hear you are white, don’t waste your time, they will not give it to you.” and when I applied for funding from a German NGO in Namibia, I was told that I am not African. When I insited that I am, the lady told me, that my art is not ‘african-enough’, when I asked her to actually have a look at my art and it’s very African subject matter, she just shrugged and said: Well, you know how it is, they want to see more traditional stuff and black artists.

Now I am a white African living legally in Germany.

If I do not tell people, they would not know that I am African. So mostly I am accepted as one of them. When I travelled with a young black Namibian artist to Germany, I realised how differently we were treated at the immigration control and I felt ashamed and frustrated.

All these are petty little things and definitely do not compare in any way to the kind of life-and-death discrimination other people go through, but it made me understand that things are seldom as straight forward as we would like them to be. Very often without any of your fault and despite working hard or achieving great things, life and people can turn against you for some unexpected reason. If these small rejections have hurt me so much, how must somebody feel who goes through much worse? And wouldn’t you want to reach out to a person who has had a hard life and gone through trauma, war and loss, with kindness and assure them, that even if life is not fair, you will do your best to try and make things better for them and everybody?

These are the thoughts going through my head often, and I am grateful for the very privileged life that I can live, the choices, which I am free to make and the small and big delights of my everyday life. And being priviledged means that we have more capacity to help and care. And if we feel we cannot really help, at least do not critizise, judge, spread hate and violence against those who are less fortunate than you.  I wish for more empathy and understanding and help. I wish for a world where people do not need to flee from their home countries.

A long introduction to my latest Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention

Before and After Marseille Porte de l’Afrique du Nord with refugees added.

Before and After
Marseille Porte de l’Afrique du Nord with refugees added.

Intervention Against Tasteless Wall Decorations in Hotels and Holiday Apartments. (Part 15)
Intervention gegen geschmacklose Wanddekoration in Hotelzimmern und Ferienwohnungen. (Teil 15)

Since 2010 I have secretly been slightly altering tasteless or boring hotel or holiday apartment art whenever I had the chance to.

I had the choice and the opportunity to leave my home to go on holiday somewhere else. What a blessing!

I have just returned from our one-week holiday to the small village Ahrenshoop at the Baltic See. The holiday bungalow we stayed in was at the same complex, as the one we stayed in back in 2010, where my very first Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention (Bad Taste Parrot) happened.

(Since our last visit they have renovated the bungalows and I assume they must have found the little message, which I have left behind the ugly parrot decoration. I wish I would know and would have witnessed the reaction! I rather did not ask, as I had so many plans for our new bungalow.)

Anyway, this time, the bungalow was decorated with calendar pictures in every room. They showed photographs of the surrounding area, by unidentified photographers. The images were cut from calendars and framed rather carelessly in cheap frames.

So, when we were not out and enjoying the perfect weather and beach, I had lots of work to do.

The decoration in our bungalow's bedroom, after I have updated it a bit.

The decoration in our bungalow’s bedroom, after I have updated it a bit.

Above our bed in the holiday bungalow was a framed poster, the only one that was not a photograph. It was also the only one that did not show a scene from the surrounding area. It showed the harbour of Marseille in France. It’s title: Marseille Porte de l’Afrique du Nord – that must be French for something like Gate to North Africa.

In a description of the poster on the internet, I found this information about it: This advertising poster by Roger Broders was designed for the French Railway Company, the Paris-Lyon-Méditerranée (PLM), between 1920 and 1932. (…)At the time of its production, posters like these had a powerful effect on people’s imaginations; this was how imagery of far-away places found its way into advertising. This image glamourises not only travel, but also the modern machinery that made mass tourism possible.

The final Marseille Porte de l’Afrique du Nord poster with refugees added.

The final Marseille Porte de l’Afrique du Nord poster with refugees added.

For such a long time in history it seemed only natural and right that Europeans travelled the world, colonized African countries and if they wished to emigrate to them rather freely. That’s how my family ended up living in Africa… that’s how the US got populated with Europeans… People are moving, things are changing.

So, I decided to update this poster with a reminder that things are different today and while some people can afford to travel on holiday to a different country, others are forced to leave behind what they know and love, in the vain and desperate hope to survive. Consider what they are going through.

I am asking for just a bit more empathy, compassion and humanness in our world. We are all humans and ideally there should be no borders, as we all share this planet and will not be able to flee from here, if we mess things up here.

Detail from my latest Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention: Refugees in boat.

Detail from my latest Hotel-Deco-Busting Intervention: Refugees in boat.

You can find previous Hotel-Deco-Busting Interventions of mine HERE.

4 thoughts on “Counting my blessings

  1. margarete in den Welten

    Thank you very much for your sensitive words . I feel rather simiiar – thankfulness for being safe and cosy in this country an anxious about all those people who have to take so dangerous ways to come here in the hope of being safe as well. My father was driven out of his home village as a result of the second world war and told us a lot about the difficulties and the pain he experienced. I am just thinking of Bob Dylans song: how many roads …
    when shall they ever learn…
    Smiles and sunshin to you and the rest of us
    Margarete in den Welten

    1. Imke Rust Post author

      And thank You, Margarete in den Welten, and also smiles and sunshine to you too! I hope that people remember our humanity and what that means, namely to love and not to fear. To treat others as you wish they will treat you. We are all so vulnerable and hate is not the solution. Wishing you a beautiful and save week ahead!

  2. afrikafrau

    thanks for sharing your thoughts about this strange world, in many way I agree and wonder why people do not understand and do not wake up. world is changing as always
    with help of small ceremonies we should link it in a better direction.
    your expression of art migt give us some hope.

    1. Imke Rust Post author

      Thank you Africafrau. And you are right, we all need to do our little or big part to create a better world. I hope that people can look into their own hearts and realise how lucky they are and thus reach out to others who are less lucky. I wonder if people who spread hate and judgement about the asylum seekers have ever tried to just imagine what they have gone through and ask themselves, what would they do in their situation and what would they like other people to do to them.


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