Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art by Nova Yu and Barbara Bilić

Nova Yu

Conveniently, after a 10 minute walk from our apartment, we arrived at the Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art. After spending the morning learning about the historical background of graffiti and street art and their present day impact in the city of Berlin, my classmates and I explored the museum, which was packed with street art, sculpture, and photography. While seeing the museum pieces, it felt necessary to have learned about the foundations of street art earlier that day. Street art and graffiti, unlike the stereotypical correlation to vandalism and crime, have always had their roots in individuality, creativity, and expression. Street art has become a method for artists to communicate specifically through tags and words in a contemporary and public form. Pieces in the museum covered a range of current social and political conversations through each artist’s style and medium. These paintings, collages, and photographs consisted of acrylic and spray paint, and some were even created completely digitally. In learning about something we all see on buildings, trains, and streets here in Berlin, I have gained more perspective on how the accessibility of graffiti has shaped who is participating in street art. For marginalized folx, graffiti can act as a way to stabilize their environments regardless of their position in life and to allow them to begin a journey towards understanding identity. The museum brought this concept to life as we observed pieces commentating on war, race, climate change, media consumption, and much more. The combination of an interesting story and vibrant colors creates a journey for the viewer to feel certain emotions and see a glimpse into a different life. Street art’s versatility has allowed BIPoC and other marginalized people an opportunity to make a literal mark and say, as our tour guide Rob noted, “I am here.”

Nova Yu is a Chinese American student from Grand Junction, Colorado. She is currently going into her final year of college majoring in Economics. Nova is the daughter of two Chinese immigrants and the middle child of three. She was born in West Virginia, and at a young age, she moved to a rural town in Colorado where she has lived most of her life. This is Nova’s first time in Europe, and she believes she has picked the best first stop: Berlin!

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Barbara Bilić

As the #FemGeniusesinBerlin moved towards the second section of the course, we traveled into the world of street art and graffiti. After our morning graffiti and street art tour, we visited the Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art, which is filled with thought-provoking art and installations by artists from different parts of the world.  The museum has been a part of the non-profit initiative of Foundation Berlin Leben since 2013, with its main goal of promoting integration, strengthening of neighborhood structures, social balance, and collaboration among artists through cultural education. It currently features works of over 50 artists working in different mediums of graffiti and other forms of urban and contemporary art, presenting individual as well as societal perspectives. The questions that promote the goal of Urban Nation are explored through the exhibition’s eight chapters: WE NEED TO TALK, FORTY-TWO, SHIFTING PERSPECTIVES, THE FORUM, DEEP FAKE, I AM AN X, BUT…, HYBRID HISTORIES and FAIL AGAIN, FAIL BETTER. These chapters bring up questions of how we communicate, how we deal with allegedly truthful information, and its interaction with digital technology. Through observing pieces by artists from different parts of the world and with various German identities, including Black German artists, African artists, artists from the U.S., Ukraine, Iran, and Poland, accompanied by Berlin street and graffiti artists, we can configure a visual transnational conversation regarding social commentary, marginalized communities, and immigrant identities. M. Jacqui Alexander and Chandra Talpade Mohanty’s “Transnational Feminism as Radical Praxis” helped me understand the dialogue between the art pieces as encouraging understanding rather than comparison and avoiding a reductionist approach to intertwined international topics. Some of the pieces that stood out were those by Josephine Sagna (German-Senegalese), Amartey Golding (Scottish and Ghanaian), Ravi Amar Zupa (Colorado based), and ICY & SOT (an Iranian duo in Brooklyn, New York), among others.

Barbara Bilić is a rising senior at Colorado College. She comes from Bosnia and Herzegovina, a small but beautiful country in Southeastern Europe also known as the Balkans. She is double majoring in Integrative Design and Architecture and German Studies. She grew up in Prozor-Rama and received a scholarship in 2018 to attend United World College (UWC) in Mostar. In Mostar, she completed the International Baccalaureate Program, which led her to obtain a Davis UWC scholarship to Colorado College. Some of her hobbies and interests include design, poetry, music, and fashion.  

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