Eating Refugees – Distress and Circuses

Eating Refugees Distress and Circuses

In parallel with recent events highlighting the global refugee crisis as it impacts European nations, the Berlin-based collective Center for Political Beauty issued a characteristic, albeit controversial, statement on the subject.

In an installation-slash-performance entitled Eating Refugees – Distress and Circuses (Flüchtlinge fressen – Not und Spiele) that began on June 17, four live tigers were housed in cages outside of Berlin’s Maxim Gorki Theater. A caretaker dressed as a Roman gladiator donned the European Union insignia, against a prominent backdrop emblazoned with the image of German President Joachim Glauck. A poster depicting a small girl asking her mother “Why don’t refugees just take a plane?” completed the visual setting.

Upon compiling these attention-grabbing elements and failing to provoke a response from the German Parliament by June 24, the Center for Political Beauty made plans for an illegally chartered flight to transport one hundred Syrian refugees from Izmir, Turkey, to Berlin on June 28. If the flight, designated “Joachim I,” was prevented from completing its journey, the collective announced, any willing members of the intended passenger list would be fed to the tigers in protest. The group launched an online crowd-funding campaign in conjunction with the chartered flight, allowing sponsors to view videos of the refugees, fund the safe passage of candidates of their choice, and contribute toward its intended goal of 80,000 euros.

In this complex, multilayered fashion, Eating Refugees – Distress and Circuses issued a bold challenge to the legislation surrounding immigration—specifically, the plight of refugees prohibited by the German government, through EU Directive 2001/51/EC, from entering the EU via airplane due to their visa-less status. The Center for Political Beauty claims that by creating barriers to travel for the undocumented and asylum seeking, German legislators are impelling desperate refugees to pursue costly and dangerous alternative routes across the Mediterranean, oftentimes offered by human traffickers.

The Center for Political Beauty directly referenced the role of the Roman emperors at the Colosseum, who arbitrated life or death with simple hand gestures. According to the collective, the tigers, which were kept in ample cages and fed regularly, were subject to more humane treatment than the refugees housed in Tempelhof, the former Berlin airport.

Despite their gory intentions, the project concluded without bloodshed—and without achieving either of its official goals. On June 28, the refugee flight seating one hundred Syrians was unceremoniously canceled by German airline AirBerlin. The collective appeared fully prepared to go through with their violent contingency plan, and scheduled a public feeding to the lions for that same afternoon, with the apparent cooperation of “volunteer” May Skaf, a Syrian actress. At the time of her intended execution, Skaf instead spoke passionately at a press conference about the futility of their situation: “Of what use would be my cries amidst the unheard calls for help at night at sea?”

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Angela Freeman is New York-based writer, designer, and enthusiast of creative expression.

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