Art, life, and the New Patrons

Sartep's graphic journey to a better world

The New Patrons seek to sponsor art projects initiated by citizens in order to better dovetail art and life. Anyone can become their client. In Berlin, the impressive comic "Temple of Refuge" was created on behalf of the Iraqi-Kurdish refugee Sartep Namiq, describing the story of his flight and the hope for a better life. By Stefan Dege

Sartep Namiq's story begins in his Iraqi-Kurdish homeland. When the living conditions there became unbearable due to drought that made the trees die and lakes dry up, his exodus began. Sartep joined the stream of refugees and new arrivals who ended up in Berlin after a dangerous and adventurous journey.

Namiq's story is told through the illustrated graphic novel, Temple of Refuge. It's named after his first home in Berlin: Tempelhof Airport – a former airport built by the Nazi regime, which was transformed into a temporary refugee shelter. Yet in the book, instead of looking bleak, it is a comfortable place to live, a valuable shelter where dreams of a better future come true for its residents. "Of course, this is a modern fairytale," admits Sartep Namiq. "But why not dream of a place where everyone has the same opportunities, whether they are rich or poor?"

Illustrator Felix Mertikat created the book's images. With angular, minimal strokes, its panels set the scene for Sartep's journey, illustrating the departure of the overcrowded rubber dinghy from a Mediterranean beach in North Africa, and refugees wandering through the streets of Rome, before continuing on a long journey in winter through south-eastern Europe. Finally, the travellers come face-to-face with the concrete walls of "Fortress Europe", guarded by hooded, heavily armed police officers. Soon, they escort Sartep and his companions in white buses to the refugee camp on Tempelhofer Feld.

No words needed

The story's images are powerful, as they must be, because the graphic novel does not include words. It was the speechlessness of the refugee camp's residents that gave Sartep and his friends the idea of doing a graphic novel four years ago. They were helped in their goal by the German chapter of the New Patrons organisation.

The comic will be released in early March in a hardcover edition of 5,000 copies by Egmont comic publishing company in Berlin. Alongside famous cartoon characters like Donald Duck, Lucky Luke and Asterix, Sartep, the hero of the Temple of Refuge, is in good company.

Additional heroes of this endeavour are the New Patrons (Neue Auftraggeber in German), a network of people who want to make a difference by helping to commission works of art. "Why is it still the case in democratic societies that only one percent of the population has the opportunity to sponsor new cultural assets?" asks Alexander Koch, director of the German chapter of the New Patrons. The movement, which Koch calls a "democratisation initiative", began in France.

Art highlights societal issues

The New Patrons connect citizens and artists, commissioning art projects that provide answers to pressing societal questions in a specific city or village. The initiative encompasses a variety of art forms, including photography, film, painting, theatre, sculpture, performance, literature, design, installation, urban planning activities, or even music. But are artists better equipped to solve problems?

"Art can create awareness about problems," says Koch, who is himself involved in the art scene, ″by doing something that couldn't have been imagined before."

That's exactly what happens in the Temple of Refuge. In the story, an implanted chip gives the hero Sartep magical powers. With it, he can make the wishes and dreams of the inhabitants of Tempelhof come true. The walls of Fortress Europe begin to crack, plants grow. A new, ecological city emerges, in which newcomers and established Berliners live together peacefully. The comic creates a utopian life and society.

Director of the German chapter of the New Patrons: Alexander Koch fleshes out a new project (photo: The New Patrons)
Anyone can become a client: "Why is it still the case in democratic societies that only one percent of the population has the opportunity to sponsor new cultural assets?" asks Alexander Koch. "Art can create awareness about problems by doing something that couldn't have been imagined before"

Like Sartep, anyone can apply to have their project funded. Mediators of the New Patrons group help bring a project to life – most concepts revolve around communication and strengthening communities. For example, the New Patrons of Monchengladbach, in northern Germany, are commissioning an urban garden for an unemployment centre that reflects on the city's social roots.

The organisation's values are reflected in the commissioning of Temple of Refuge, which is funded by the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations (IfA), the German Foreign Office and the Fondation de France.

The hardcover edition will be published by Egmont publishing company in March and cost €10. All proceeds will be donated to Sea-Watch, which rescues refugees in distress on the Mediterranean Sea.

The New Patrons plan to give away another 10,000 copies of a paperback version to German schools, refugee centres, and refugee initiatives in the Arab world. "If just one person reads this story, it will have been worth it," says Sartep.

Stefan Dege

© Deutsche Welle 2021

Translated from the German by Sarah Hucal

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