The Artists

I always think to myself: if there are one hundred people in front of me and I can only manage one out of those one hundred think and be moved, then merci. Then I won. This is one of my most intimate sources of motivation. To shift something, to make a difference, to change something. To take people out of their everyday lives and to show them a completely different perspective. Because when the acoustics disappear, when the texts and the words disappear, then people unite. […] And they can all laugh together at the same time. And to achieve that, that is the challenge.

Azrael is a mime artist and actor. He was born and raised in Vienna and is the grandchild of a Turkish ‘Gastarbeiter’ (meaning ‘guestworker’: migrant workers from countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy, Yugoslavia, etc. who worked in central and northern European countries during the second half of the twentieth century). The differences between the two cultures caused him great difficulty. Being called an Austrian in Turkey and a Turk in Austria meant that he struggled to develop a sense of belonging as a small child. As a young adult, he flew to Mallorca on a whim where he worked in hotels and attended a ballet school for over three years. Back in Vienna, Azrael took part in various workshops for modern dance at the Vienna Museum Quarter. Still, having been born and raised between two worlds and dropped out of school, he grappled with finding any real prospects for his future and feeling like he had no access to society. Disappointed in himself and in his life, he did everything he could to break out of his depression. With time, he turned his depression into a source of creativity and inspiration. In 2005, he finally had the idea to get a mask. The face to the character Azrael was born. For the first time, he felt complete and free. According to Azrael, the mask had put all the disparate parts back together again and finally opened the doors to society for him.

Two strangers.
Into the dark.
Four eyes gleam.
Illuminated within me on the long way from St. Wolfgang to Sudan.
“Where are we going?” I asked the nice driver.
“It is not difficult. Go left, then right.”
“He doesn’t speak English, only German,” I said.
“I speak German. The language of my foreignness. The language of my power.”
Out, in, in, out of the country, Sudan, in, to Austria, push, pull, zoom in, zoom out.
The mountains move towards us.
Heaven was close, very close, but there was no imminent prophet.
Flood of fear, dead silent night, longing, anger, mix with the meadow of my old memories, bring tears to the face of a forgotten migrant woman in Austrian women’s politics.

Ishraga is a writer, researcher and freelance journalist and has lived in Vienna since 1993. She was born and raised in Sudan, where she published her first poems in various newspapers. In them she addresses the body, love, and female sexuality. In the years that followed, she took part in women’s movements and became an active member of the Sudanese Communist Party, while simultaneously studying communications at the Islamic University. The day after Ishraga finished her studies, a military coup occurred, putting her future on hold indefinitely. The only option she had left was to flee the country. She came to Austria to continue her studies in Vienna. She has published three books of poetry in Austria and is a forerunner of (African) associations in Austria. The associations are still active today and serve to promote participation in society.

For my vocal work, it’s important to me how I say or sing something, not what I say or sing. It’s not about understanding, it’s about feeling. We use a lot of melodies that are actually our own, but of course these melodies also have a source. So, I can’t say that a melody is purely mine because I am sure that this melody has a source from my own culture or from another and because I am always very open to picking up melodies and sounds and tones from other languages. Then I just take the syllables or sounds from this language and try to transform completely in my body, or with my mind and with my senses. It takes on a different shape.

Nigar is a performer and has lived in Vienna since 1991. An Iraqi Kurd, she comes from a family with many artists. She started singing at the age of 12 and at 19 she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Baghdad while also working at a theater. During their studies, Nigar and her husband Shamal founded a Kurdish experimental theater company with which they performed numerous plays in southern Kurdistan. In 1991, when they were informed that Saddam Hussein’s troops were approaching, they, like over three million other Kurds, packed their belongings and fled to Austria with their newborn child via Iran and Turkey. After arriving in Austria and applying for asylum, they completed some German courses. Then they continued their vocation and, in 1992, they presented their first play in Vienna. Two years later, Nigar began to pursue theater studies again at the University of Vienna and finished with a doctorate. In 1998, she finally founded her own theater with her husband, the “Lalish Theaterlabor”, where the two of them also play, sing, organize workshops, give singing lessons and launch projects. Having appeared at numerous festivals, they are known for their theater work nationally and internationally.

“I see my work as a mixture of what I have learned here or even in America – that is, the western way of thinking, dance techniques, dance styles – and what I have learned from the Japanese or that which I carry within myself. That’s Aiko, as a method. I try to teach people that – that they can very well deal with their bodies to employ them in a contemporary context as dancers or performers – while, on the other hand, to work abstractly with inner images, emotions and states, as I learned from Butoh.”

Originally from Japan, Aiko is a performance artist, choreographer, and dancer living in Vienna. Her father denied her wish to become a dancer. Instead, she studied concert piano at the Vienna University of Music. She broke off her studies as soon as she was able to become a freelance piano teacher and was finally of legal age to take dance lessons. In the years that followed, she received several scholarships and learned and worked with renowned dancers such as Gus Giardano in the USA and Carlotta Ikeda in Japan. Aiko works at the interface between performance and the visual arts, with a focus on socially and environmentally critical topics. She stages solo and group works at festivals at home and abroad, often in the form of interactive, site-specific interventions in public space – such as a performance/flash mob at Vienna’s UNO City that stood against the reopening of nuclear power plants in Japan after the Fukushima disaster. Aiko is a co-founder and the artistic director of ‘OBRA – One Billion Rising Austria’, an artistic campaign working to end violence against women and girls. For her work, she has been awarded the first prize in the art competition ‘Save our Oceans – Now!’, the sponsorship award from the ‘Preis der Freien Szene Wiens’ for ‘OBRA’, and the ‘Austrian Frauenring’ award for her commitment to feminism. Her work has built bridges between art, activism and politics, whereby her artistic roots also constitute a bridge between the two cultures, the western and the far eastern.

As I said, I am integrated, I swim like a fish in this country. Even so, I sometimes get into trouble and may feel uncomfortable in certain situations. But that is inevitable. Every migrant has that and must deal with the fact that he has two hearts within him. But that is not only a handicap, as I am presenting it now, but of course also an asset. Growing up in two cultures is not harmful; you see things from two different angles and that is often a positive thing.

However, there has never been any music from foreigners who mix with each other; Greeks, Turks, Yugos, and Austrians. That was unimaginable. Or, rather, that Austrians would go to such concerts, that was not at all common. We existed in parallel worlds. There was something there, but there was no interaction between them. I think the Tschuschenkappelle was one of the first groups to break through that.

Slavko is the band leader of the music group “Wiener Tschuschenkapelle”. When he came to Austria from Croatia at the age of 18, he was not a typical ‘Gastarbeiter’ because he had previously attended a grammar school in Germany and was therefore able to speak German upon his arrival. Despite his first job on a construction site, Slavko decided to study German philology. After graduating, he worked in courtrooms as a translator and interpreter. Through his work he was familiar with the xenophobia and discrimination that his clients from former Yugoslavia were exposed to. He decided to do something about it. After some time, Slavko and two of his friends founded a music group called “Wiener Tschuschenkapelle”, which has existed since 1989. Over the years, members came and went, each bringing their respective cultural and musical influences into the band. This gave the music its versatile and quirky character that to this day remains unmatched. Through this multi-cultural project, he and his band bring people together and break through the homogeneity of the audience. By 2018, they had produced 14 albums. Slavko is of the opinion that migrant art in Austria has become of significant importance.

I surely came to music through my mother, who is a musician herself. Even as a child she took me to concerts quite often. So, I saw all these instruments on stage and then when I was five or six I said to her, “I want to play that, the cello.” And she said, “okay” and asked a cellist friend of hers. She saw my fingers, I was very tender and small, and she said, “You’re still too small.” I had to wait about a year and was very impatient and kept asking questions, and then, at some point, it worked. That was really nice. I was about seven then. That’s when I started.

Marie is a cellist, was born in Vienna and has German and Guinean roots. She began participating in various competitions very early on, but it was not until the International Johannes Brahms Competition in 2009 when she won first place, that her music career changed significantly in her favor. After studying classical music at the Vienna University of Music, which she began at the age of 16, she became increasingly interested in jazz and started learning. Marie flew to Ghana in 2012 to work with children as part of a project. During her stay there, she wrote her first song entitled “Mister Susu” one night in the jungle. Her experiences during this time revealed new approaches to music to her. She created her own songs on a loop station and rediscovered her instrument as an accompaniment. In 2015, she came out with her first EP called “The Moony Sessions” and, in 2019, she released her debut album entitled “Gap”. Marie can be seen live playing in her duet with accordion player Christian Bakanic, as well as in various constellations of chamber music at the ‘Alpenarte Festival’. As a soloist, she has performed at a number of well-known concerts, festivals and tours, such as the Classic Garden in South Korea, the The World of Hans Zimmer Tour in Europe, the Fusion festival in Germany and the Konzerthaus International in New York.

I come from a very, very large family where a lot of blood has congealed. Yet not only in the family, but also in the history of Colombia. From the civil war to the present, right? We always have red, blood. Be it out of love, be it out of passion, be it out of hate, et cetera. That is my main color, red.

Antonio is a painter who also works as a Spanish teacher at the Latin America Institute in Vienna. He comes from a large family of coffee cultivators. Antonio studied architecture in Colombia and, at the time, was also an active member of left-wing political movements. After his studies he flew to Europe via the USA with the intention of exploring the world, until he finally arrived in Austria in 1983 and found his new center of life here. In Vienna, he studied cultural engineering and water management at BOKU. Since 1990, he has been leading study trips and aid projects in Latin America as part of his teaching activities. Antonio started painting in 2000 to express his feelings and opinions. He describes his painting as social art, which has its roots in the colors and motifs of the ‘Mola’, the patchwork art of the Cuna Indians from Panama and Colombia. At first, three symbolic animals: the condor, jaguar and anaconda were the chief motifs found in his painting. Finally, he switched to larger formats with imposing color schemes and provocative subject matter. Antonio’s art is an expression of his resistance to the injustice, exploitation, and racism in our world.