A drama-based approach to traces of colonialism in Berlin and Lomé
Participants from Germany and Togo made links visible and voices audible
Partner country: Togo
Partner organisations: Compagnie Artistique Carrefour and ASA-FF e. V.
Duration: January – November 2019
SDG: 16. Peace and justice
The TRACES project was initiated by Kollektiv X Perspektiven and Compagnie Artistique Carrefour in cooperation with ASA-FF e. V. Based on Sustainable Development Goal 16, “Peace and justice”, it involved 15 young Germans and Togolese who investigated traces of colonialism in their countries in an effort to trigger a postcolonial debate. As well as learning a great deal about colonialism themselves, they shared their results with the general public in a series of theatrical performances.
SDG 16: Promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development
Looking at the colonial era from the German and Togolese perspectives
Compagnie Artistique and Kollektiv X Perspektiven had already collaborated on other art and drama projects focused on issues concerning critical assessment of power structures and participants’ own stances. 2019 saw the start of a new joint project, TRACES. The aim was for 12 young adults to explore in depth how the German-Togolese relationship has developed since the colonial era.
The preparatory phase for the project began in January 2019 and laid the foundations for a learning atmosphere built on mutual trust. The participants got to know each other by working together on cross-continental exercises. For example, working in German-Togolese tandem pairs, they described to each other how they got home at the end of the day. This gave everyone a better idea of the everyday situation in each other’s country. Both groups were already exploring the topic of colonialism. The group from Togo talked to a descendant of King Mlapa III., who in 1884 signed the treaty with Germany that created the German protectorate. The German group visited an exhibition entitled “The Dead, as far as  can remember”, which examined colonial aggression and anti-colonial resistance.
Looking for traces in participants’ everyday lives
During their exchange visits, the group went on “postcolonial city tours” where the main question they considered was, “What colonial traces can still be seen in the city?” But they also took a critical look at people’s existing knowledge and the use of language, discussing how traces of colonialism are dealt with and the stories people tell about them in Potsdam and Togoville.
As well as exploring their own cities to demonstrate the link between colonial traces and their everyday lives, the participants considered personal items and the places they go and things they do on a daily basis. Together, they documented the experiences and thoughts they took away from their research and reflected on their results.
From personal research to public theatrical performances
Inspired by their workshops and excursions, the participants wrote two plays. Working together, they reflected on what they had learned and used the input to devise scenes and a plot. At the performances of the plays in urban settings in Togo and Germany (and in workshops with Berlin University of the Arts), the participants presented their project and shared with others what they had learned.
Bildergalerie mit Bildern aus dem Projekt
Critical whiteness and empowerment
The different perspectives of the participants from the two countries enriched the project but each participant was also able to contribute input based on their own individual stories and experiences.
What you learn from schoolbooks is really different to what you learn when you interact with people.
The different perspectives of the participants from the two countries enriched the project but each participant was also able to contribute input based on their own individual stories and experiences. As a result, the entire group benefited considerably from the various positions regarding SDG 16 and the individual participants took away new experiences from the project. “I found a sense of complicity with participants who, like me, were born in Europe and experience racism.
For people like me, colonialism is a very personal topic and triggers a lot of emotions, some of them very conflicting,” one participant from Berlin reported.
“It has enriched my life, really broadened my view of things and I’ve learned a lot. Because what you learn from schoolbooks is really different to what you learn when you interact with people. I relearned my country’s colonial history. It was quite challenging and I wondered why we didn’t learn about it earlier,” said a participant from Lomé.
The impact of TRACES on the participants’ everyday lives
Even though the project has come to an end, it had a lasting impact and gave participants and audiences alike food for thought on the topic of postcolonialism. One participant’s takeaway is particularly encouraging: “The project made me keenly aware that colonialism is not a chapter in a history book that you can simply close - presuming it is actually covered thoroughly in the first place. Rather, colonial traces can be found in so many things, so many acts and in our language and they need to be deconstructed. I participate differently in debates now and feel more confident about raising supposedly awkward and annoying issues.”
The joint project struck a chord with the adolescents and young adults who participated and their exploration of colonialism and its repercussions is not over even if TRACES is. The next project on the topic of responsible consumption and traces of colonialism in global trading relationships is already being planned.
You can find out more about the TRACES project here