For last year’s iteration of Documenta, a contemporary art exhibition in Kassel that occurs every five years, Nigerian artist Olu Oguibe erected a 53.5-foot-tall obelisk in the German city’s King’s Square. On each side of the monument the Bible verse “I was a stranger and you took me in” was inscribed in German, English, Arabic, and Turkish. The artist envisioned the pro-refugee artwork in relation to the history of the site, where in the 1900s, German statesman Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was refused a hotel room after speaking French to the innkeeper. However, the city of Kassel is feuding with the artist over the obelisk’s ultimate location, reports The Art Newspaper.
After Documenta closed, Kassel began a fund-raising campaign to purchase the artwork and hoped to reach €600,000. They came dramatically short, reaching a total of €126,000 from donors, but Oguibe still accepted the price. But now, Kassel is requesting that the obelisk be moved to a different site, one that is frequented by students and immigrants. For the artist this simply is not acceptable.
Oguibe believes the city’s sudden decision to relocate the work may be rooted in political pressure from Germany’s right-wing party, Alternative for Germany (AfD). Thomas Materner, a politician from the party, was quoted in a local newspaper describing the work as, “ideologically polarizing, deformed art,” and two of the city’s 13 culture committee members represent AfD.
“The site and the work go together,” Alexander Koch of the gallery KOW, told The Art Newspaper. If the city doesn’t agree to leave the work at it’s intended site, Koch says the artist will consider dismantling the obelisk in order to sell it to another city.