Open sesame: A photophobic experiment 
Bärenzwinger Berlin

Curatorial team: Erkan Affan in collaboration with Tewa Barnosa and Sanni Est

Artists: Furmaan Ahmed, Anna Bannout, Tewa Barnosa, Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Sanni Est, Gabriel Massan



What did Ali Baba see when he opened the doors of the cave using the magic words, “open sesame”? What had been stolen and hidden by the thieves in the darkness?

As the story of Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves unfolds, we’re confronted with the realities of how far one may go to claim another’s treasures as their own. As the curatorial team and commissioned artists of this season at the Bärenzwinger, we’re no strangers to such an act. Our experiences as Black, Indigenous and Racialised Majority individuals – as well as the subsequent intersections of queer and transness* that we navigate – mean that we witness time & time again how the very treasures of our antiquities, our recent pasts, our current embodiments, and even our projected futures are erased, entrapped and paraded against our will. Similar to the tale of Ali Baba, the Thieves of our stories coercively enter into and co-opt our spaces – claiming and controlling access to our treasures as they so wish.

Such complex experiences of power make it a tentative experience to “take over” – albeit temporarily – and (re)contextualise a space of hegemonic display like the Bärenzwinger with our programme. It is an act that requires us to address certain questions through our own practice, such as whether it is even possible to subvert the legacy of a space that has such a specific function embedded into its core, physical structure. “Open Sesame” is an invitation to join this addressing and questioning through our occupation of the former zoo. It is an exploration, a deconstruction, a reconstruction… It is an opening. An assessment of the given meanings of a space, and an exploration of whether a new meaning is in fact possible at all.   

So, repeat after us as you enter:  
Open sesame
Sesam öffne dich
Abre-te Sésamo
Açıl susam
افتح يا سمسم
ⴰⵔ ⴰⵙⵉⵎⵙⵎ

Note: You better check Erkan Affan’s website it’s much more cool than mine and full of hot academia & curation  stuff!  ︎︎︎

What are these new meanings that we would like to employ?

Welcome to our photophobic experiment. If photo means light and phobia means fear, then photophobia is the light that they fear.

Our world is understood, measured and influenced by the discourses of the Enlightenment. Art, science and philosophy – the cognitive auxiliaries of humanity that one uses to understand the world – have been pathologized in our surroundings to centre the experiences of the White, cisgender, heterosexual male. From the lessons taught in schools to the paintings exhibited in museums, the dominant view is one that is determined by the points of ‘knowledge’ spread to us via this age of Enlightenment.

But what came before the Enlightenment? What deviations from knowledge have there been? Have we – the Others - not created alternative productions of knowledge, or nurtured rays of Light that have shone through the crevices of the human experience to illuminate a multiplicity of paths that can be taken ahead?

We have been erased – in our past and our present, but we refuse to accept this for our future. This Photophobic Experiment is an opportunity to centre our meanings, our experiences, our lived modalities, as the epicentre around which a plot develops. We are the protagonists, who invade this space and its hostile architecture to provide a glimpse into a world that presents us as the wilful subject of focus.

Until now the Enlightenment continues to push us into the Dark, but we have found our own forms of Light in the shadows.

*Photophobia is an artistic movement previously elaborated on by Sanni Est