Open sesame: A photophobic Experiment




Take a 3D tour through the exhibition

Furmaan Ahmed
Anna Banout
Tewa Barnosa
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
Sanni Est
Gabriel Massan

Curation: Erkan Affan (main curator), Sanni Est and Tewa Barnosa (Artists-In-Residence)

Coordination: Maja Smoszna
Production: Ulrike Riebel

Flyer designed by Tewa Barnosa and Viktor Schmidt 
Download here


What did Ali Baba see when he opened the doors of the cave using the magic words, “open sesame”? What had been stolen and hidden by the thieves in the darkness?

As the story of Ali Baba & the Forty Thieves unfolds, we’re confronted with the realities of how far one may go to claim another’s treasures as their own. As the curatorial team and commissioned artists of this season at the Bärenzwinger, we’re no strangers to such an act. Our experiences as Black, Indigenous and Racialised Majority individuals – as well as the subsequent intersections of queer and transness* that we navigate – mean that we witness time & time again how the very treasures of our antiquities, our recent pasts, our current embodiments, and even our projected futures are erased, entrapped and paraded against our will. Similar to the tale of Ali Baba, the Thieves of our stories coercively enter into and co-opt our spaces – claiming and controlling access to our treasures as they so wish.

Such complex experiences of power make it a tentative experience to “take over” – albeit temporarily – and (re)contextualise a space of hegemonic display like the Bärenzwinger with our programme. It is an act that requires us to address certain questions through our own practice, such as whether it is even possible to subvert the legacy of a space that has such a specific function embedded into its core, physical structure. “Open Sesame” is an invitation to join this addressing and questioning through our occupation of the former zoo. It is an exploration, a deconstruction, a reconstruction… It is an opening. An assessment of the given meanings of a space, and an exploration of whether a new meaning is in fact possible at all.

So, repeat after us as you enter:
Open sesame
Sesam öffne dich
Abre-te Sésamo
Açıl susam
افتح يا سمسم
ⴰⵔ ⴰⵙⵉⵎⵙⵎ

What are these new meanings that we would like to employ?

Welcome to our photophobic experiment. If photo means light and phobia means fear, then photophobia is the light that they fear.

Our world is understood, measured and influenced by the discourses of the Enlightenment. Art, science and philosophy – the cognitive auxiliaries of humanity that one uses to understand the world – have been pathologized in our surroundings to centre the experiences of the White, cisgender, heterosexual male. From the lessons taught in schools to the paintings exhibited in museums, the dominant view is one that is determined by the points of ‘knowledge’ spread to us via this age of Enlightenment.

But what came before the Enlightenment? What deviations from knowledge have there been? Have we – the Others – not created alternative productions of knowledge, or nurtured rays of Light that have shone through the crevices of the human experience to illuminate a multiplicity of paths that can be taken ahead?

We have been erased – in our past and our present, but we refuse to accept this for our future. This Photophobic Experiment is an opportunity to centre our meanings, our experiences, our lived modalities, as the epicentre around which a plot develops. We are the protagonists, who invade this space and its hostile architecture to provide a glimpse into a world that presents us as the wilful subject of focus.

Until now the Enlightenment continues to push us into the Dark, but we have found our own forms of Light in the shadows.

*Photophobia is an artistic movement previously elaborated on by Sanni Est

Click Here for Programme (Internal Design)
Click Here for Programme (External Design)

The physical opening of the exhibition was supposed to happen on November 5, 2020. Due to the lockdown in Berlin and closure of exhibition spaces, the show opens as a virtual experience in March 2021.

Furmaan Ahmed

Furmaan Ahmed (1995) is a multi disciplinary artist from Glasgow who creates installation works that act as sites of knowledge for POC queer and trans bodies. They are a recent graduate from Central Saint Martins who has already worked with galleries and community initiatives such as Gossamer Fog, Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh Arts Festival, Tate Modern and the Southbank Centre. Furmaan also has a collaborative practise as an image maker, set designer and art director where they have photographed and collaborated with artists such as Willow Smith, Kate Moss, SOPHIE, Sasha Velour, Nile Rodgers and David Lachapelle.

In their diverse art practise, Ahmed explores their dual identity being transgender and muslim and how the hybrid bodies manifests in the institutional world. With a passion for the British gothic architectural style and islamic ornamentation, Ahmed questions codes of historical design to reimagine fantasy worlds through the creation of communal shrines, colonial monuments, gardens and water fountains to look to a future that is more inclusive for black, brown and queer people.

With a deep interest in the mysticism of ecology and the botanical, Ahmed explores the fantastical and the rubrics of reason against order. Furmaan creates these digital and live worlds as a sites for community engagement, queer brown hybridity and communal healing.

Anna Banout

Anna Banout is a speculative designer and artist. She graduated from the Faculty of Design at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw (MA) in 2017 and currently lives and works in Berlin. Although her professional background is product design, her practice aims to bend its boundaries and explore its restrictions – her practice merges design processes, traditions and its deep connection to the material with storytelling through the language of objects. In her work, Banout revolves around both personal and social experiences and narratives, exploring human-object relationships, continuously blurring boundaries between design process and storytelling, craft and technology.

Banout’s MA work, SYRIA 2087, was awarded the 1st prize at the Designblok Diploma Selection 2017; her works were exhibited in Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Feldfünf Berlin, Station Beirut, Centre Pompidou in Paris, Gdynia Design Days, Łódź Design Festival, Designblok Prague, Ambiente Frankfurt and other galleries and venues around the world. Since 2017, she is also a designer for a Warsaw-based brand Tre Product.

– Website

Erkan Affan in conversation with Anna Banout (PDF)

Tewa Barnosa

Tewa Barnosa (b. 1998) is Libyan Tamazight artist and cultural producer. She was born
and raised in Tripoli and is currently based in Berlin. Her practice revolves around
identity and the definitions of belonging, the ancient histories and uncertain futures of
languages, and on written, oral & collective memory in the social and political context
of Libya and North Africa. Barnosa focuses on the use of different forms of
Tifinagh and Arabic calligraphy and texts as the main elements in her artistic
Production. She experiments with paper-based works, installations, digital
mediums, moving images and sound art.

Barnosa founded WaraQ art foundation in 2015, an independent non-profit
organisation dedicated to support the contemporary Libyan art scene locally
and in the diaspora. Through encouraging socio-critical dialogue between artists
and audiences, she curated and organised several exhibitions, projects and
activities that took place in WaraQ’s space, and in the public spaces of the old
city of Tripoli.

Erkan Affan in conversation with Tewa Barnosa (Interview)

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley

Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley is an artist working predominantly in digital media to communicate the experiences of being a Black Trans person. Their practice focuses on recording the lives of Black Trans people, intertwining lived experience with fiction to imaginatively retell Trans stories. Spurred on by a desire to record the “History of Trans people both living and past” their work can often be seen as a Trans archive where Black Trans people are stored for the future. Throughout history, Black queer and Trans people have been erased from the archives. Because of this it is necessary not only to archive our existence, but also the many creative narratives we have used and continue to use to share our experiences.

Danielle’s work has been shown in Focal Point, Science Gallery, MU, Barbican, Tate ,Les Urbains as well as being part of the BBZ Alternative Graduate Show at the Copeland Gallery.

Erkan Affan in conversation with Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley (PDF)

Sanni Est

Sanni Est is a singer, curator and community organiser based in Berlin and with roots in North-Eastern Brazil. Inspired by socio-political structures, etymological research and
autobiographical narratives, Sanni weaves multilayered artworks that challenge the notion of humanity of the viewer while decolonizing herself from Eurocentric gender-binary patterns with
her voice and body. Sanni’s work in progress ‘PHOTOPHOBIA’ is a transmediatic storytelling that will culminate in a music album to be released in 2021. This concept has previously been explored as a manifesto – exhibited by different Goethe Instituts in “Queer as German Folk” – and as a homonyme performance piece shown during the festival “The Present is Not Enough” at Hebbel am Ufer in Berlin.

“Escape Route” is one of the chapters of ‘PHOTOPHOBIA’. In it, Sanni creates a path with her voice alone that allows her to navigate her trans, North-Eastern Brazilian vocal qualities in an emotional ritual that celebrates introspection. It will be exhibited as an audiovisual installation in collaboration with Gabriel Massan for ‘Open Sesame – A Photophobic Experiment’, co-curated by Erkan Affan, Tewa Barnosa and Sanni Est herself.
Erkan Affan in conversation with Sanni Est (Interview)

Gabriel Massan

Gabriel Massan (Rio de Janeiro, 1996) lives in Berlin, Germany. Bachelor in Social
Communication from the State University of Minas Gerais (UEMG), Brazil. Also studied at Escola de Artes Visuais do Parque Lage (EAV, Rio de Janeiro), Brazil. Since 2017 Gabriel has presented his research in digital art in galleries, fairs, institutions, and national and international festivals. In 2018, he began producing 3D prints for São Paulo Fashion Week and signed 3D animations for Glamour Brazil, also featured online for Motorola, representing the new names of video art in Brazil. Resided at ETOPIA – Art and Technology Center in
Zaragoza, Spain, in 2019, produced the immersive installation “EPT”, where proximity sensors, augmented reality filters and fabric painting interacted in the same environment through multiple canvases. Developed the VR experience “Barriga” with Camila Roriz for the
Empower Fest, Flutgraben eV, Berlin.

Selected for the group exhibition “Proxy Salvia From a Ranked Souvenir” at The Wrong Biennale. Massan has signed 3D visuals for NTS Radio London, collaborated on Sebastian Tabares-Vasquez’s FMP animation “Astrea” at London College of Fashion and is part of the project “TV Coragem”, by Lorran Dias, commissioned for the Moreira Salles Institute (IMS), São Paulo, in 2020.The artist seeks to build narratives that use animated three-dimensional objects and augmented and/or virtual reality, permeating programming, sculpture, painting, and digital manipulation.


Erkan Affan in conversation with Gabriel Massan (interview)

Erkan Affan

Erkan Affan is a gender non-conforming curator & writer of colour, currently based between Berlin & London. With an academic background in ‘Middle Eastern’ politics (BA, SOAS) and global migration (MSc, UCL), Erkan’s research focuses notably on the intersections between sexuality, gender, migration and diasporic identity. Since relocating to Berlin in 2019, Erkan completed a residency funded by the European Commission and co-founded the Queer Arab Barty collective; curating social and political spaces in Berlin for LGBTQIA+ Arab individuals. Over the past year and a half, Erkan has collaborated both individually and collectively with a number of venues and organisations across Europe, including the ICA and Rich Mix in London, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Die Kunste Werke and ACUD MACHT NEU in Berlin, and the IQMF in Amsterdam.

During their time as the main curator of the Bärenzwinger, Erkan invites Libyan artist Tewa Barnosa and Brazilian artist Sanni Est – both Berlin-based – to work as commissioners in developing a programme at the gallery spotlighting Black, Indigenous and Racialised Majority-identifying LGBTQIA+ individuals.

Erkan Affan in conversation with…

On Thursday, November 5 the exhibition »Open Sesame: A Photophobic Experiment« was supposed to open. Due to the public administration’s current guidelines and recommendations on how to deal with the coronavirus, this has now been postponed.

Pending the physical opening of the gallery, Erkan Affan and the Bärenzwinger team have commissioned a series of discussions with the artists set to exhibit their installations in the space upon the reopening of the galleries. Taking place virtually, the discussions very simply ask the artists to elaborate about their artistry, their inspirations, the works they are potentially bringing to the gallery, and more.

You can download the interviews here:

Sanni Est
Tewa Barnosa
Anna Banout
Furmaan Ahmed
Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley
Gabriel Massan