Exhibition / Die Tropische Moderne: How modernity came to the equator

Münzenberg Forum Berlin Franz-Mehring-Platz 1, 10243 Berlin until 11.02.2024

From the presentation to the exhibition at the “Willi Münzenberg Forum, Franz-Mehring-Platz 1, 10243 Berlin
12.12.2023 until 11.02.2024, Free entrance

The title of the current exhibition is dazzling: Tropical Modernism – How did this architecture reach the equator? The photo exhibition by photographer Jean Molitor provides an insight on how a broad stylistic, avant-garde architectural approach conquered the world. The art historian Andreas Butter was invited to the opening. Here are a few thoughts from his introduction.

The term „modernism“ describes more than just a form. For a long time, it was associated with a parting from the burdens of the past, with free thinking and good living conditions for each and everyone. This was particularly true in the 1960s, when the idea of progress was particularly evident in wide highways, high-rise buildings, space travel and pop culture – and, in our part of the world, in remotely heated homes for small families.

This optimistic interpretation has since been shaken. Multiple crises have contributed to this: the systemic crises of capitalism and socialism, a return of the anti-modern in the form of re-emerging fascism, anarcho-capitalism and religious fundamentalism. Contributing to the disillusion was not least the ruthless treatment of historical testimonies in the post-war decades. The promises of technological modernity are now also on shaky ground, whether due to the challenges of global warming or the decay of infrastructure (the speaker’s heating has been out for 14 days in freezing temperatures).

And yet modernity also had a lasting impact on the tropics. Like “ modernism“, the term “ tropics“ also has ambivalent connotations. On the one hand, it is associated with the exoticism of places of longing, the „dream beach with palm trees“. On the other hand, it resonates not only geographically but also epochally with the foreign, which is also interpreted as „wild“ with a colonial gesture of superiority. To some extent, the equatorial regions today are indeed crisis-ridden zones, characterized by poverty, violence and natural disasters (all of which can and do happen to us in Europe). In any case, “ Modernism“ appears here as a foreign body, the „other“: „Tropical Modernism“ could come across as the result of a well-meaning missionary idea or represent exploitative colonialism – and this certainly with transitions. At the same time, and this is not reduced to outward appearances, the universalist concept of modernism, with its awareness of its non-exclusively European roots, offers anchor points for a reception of the regional, even from afar. And this opens up the possibility of a reinterpretation in the sense of self-discovery for people in the global South.

(Read the full text on the Willi Münzenberg Forum website)

Andreas Butter