Allow us to reintroduce ourselves

Allow us to reintroduce ourselves is an illustrative portrayal of moments of Black Austrian history by Black history experts, creatives and cultural workers from across Europe and the Black diaspora. Curator Tonica Hunter brings together historian and journalist Vanessa Spanbauer and visual artist Rossel Chaslie in this collaborative artistic-historic project which reflects on the past, depicts the present and imagines a better future for Black life in Austria.

For more information on “Allow us to reintroduce ourselves” you can listen to the audio commentaries by Tonica Hunter (on the curatorial process), Rossel Chaslie (on his artistic approach) Vanessa Spanbauer (on constructing a Black History timeline) and Mireille Ngosso (an introduction to Black Austrian History) corresponding with the illustrations.

Tonica Hunter

Curatorial Statement by Tonica Hunter

When it comes to history, we know how political and loaded it can be - and therefore how important it is to feature and acknowledge not only one side or voice or perspective.

My curatorial work more broadly is about exactly that: how polyphonic, non binary (in the sense of disciplines, opposites: ‘“black” and “white”’ readings of phenomena) non mainstream, non conventional perspectives are given a platform to create and express; so this approach was central to depicting a timeline on Black Austrian history.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that I have suggested to the museum that we have a series of monthly talks/readings/interventions from black Austrians to bring this timeline to life and complete it with voices and bodies who have been integral to the betterment of black lives in Austria. This should take place from October 2021 to February 2022 and is a key way of making this a polyphonic and community based and community focused work.

Key to the thinking into this project was naturally involving an Austrian, documentor, and contributor in various ways to Black Austrian history, based in Vienna. Vanessa Spanbauer’s work in this regard is extremely important and I was honoured to have her be part of this with her input on the timeline points she felt should be included. Of course, we stand on the shoulders of those who went and go before us, so this work is also only possible because of those individuals, organisations and collectives which have contributed hugely to Black lives in Austria and whose work is ongoing. We wished we could include them all in this one glimpse - we would need a much bigger canvas for all of this deeply complex, multifaceted, intersectional work that Black people do on a microlevel to macro level on a daily basis in this country alone. In this vein, I also asked Mireille Ngosso to write and read her own take and introduction to the timeline as an audio accompaniment to the illustrations.

I came across Rossel Chaslie’s work over the last year and particularly loved his Black History Painted (@blackhistorypainted) works. For me the fact that he also was based outside of Austria but within Europe was deliberate in my choice of asking him to illustrate. His fresh eye took in everything from Vanessa’s knowledge and also he spent time to speak to Austrians from the Black Community from the arts and cultural scene. Rossel has the knowledge of how to deeply and beautifully illustrate key points of global Black histories but he also has a way of working (which I love) and it's his merger of fact and fiction (or rather, imagination). The latter, imagination, is crucial to project bright Black futures and to reclaim history in the way we wish to see ourselves and how we wish to be seen. In the context of Austria, where structural racism and daily microaggressions are unfortunately the norm, envisioning a bright, Black future is even more necessary and highly political.

Recounting Black history (wherever the country) is both recounting hardship, trauma and resistance to white hegemony and, at the same time recounting victory, empowerment, joy, love, life. This timeline is a little glimpse into both, all of it. Or as much of it as we can fit into these four walls.

Allow us to reintroduce ourselves

Mireille Ngosso

Prologue by Mireille Ngosso

Every day, Black people and People of Colour experience racism. Whether at schools, in the justice system, in politics, or in the cultural sector, Black people are made invisible, marginalised, and discriminated against.

Finally, in June 2019 with the BLM movement, the box was opened, many affected people unpacked. But actually, many affected people have long tried to talk about their experiences of racism, books were written, posts on social media published, many have somehow tried to address racism. But only now has the time come when the issue reaches a broad public and the media and the white majority population have to listen and can actively engage against these injustices. For many white people, it is unimaginable the prejudice and also the tangible insults and sometimes physical violence BPoC have to deal with. But when hearing stories of racism and actively listening, many will understand that this is a real injustice and inequality. And once this understanding is raised, anyone and everyone can become part of this movement. Because in the end, we are fighting for dignity and equal treatment for all people. 

Many people do not want to acknowledge the structural racism against Black people in Austria. It is often said that this is a problem in the U.S. or something that happened 20 or 30 years ago and not today. 
But those who are affected by racism cannot prevent this experience. It can be minor events, like being stared at in public transport or not being taken seriously in a government office, but there are definitely much worse events that happen more often than you might imagine. For example, discrimination in schools (by teachers and students) or racial profiling - that is, being checked by the police just because they think someone with black skin is a criminal. Everyday racism can also become a danger because you are automatically made an object of hate by many - that's a fact. Black people are believed less, they are stereotyped very quickly, judged and treated badly. This is exactly what the BlackLivesMatter movement wants to change. By BlackLivesMatter we mean that Black people and People of Colour should also be considered equal and that their lives - just like the lives of the white majority society - should be protected and they should not be put in danger because of the colour of their skin. 

Also in Austria is it necessary that we finally deal with racism. Racism is deeply rooted in Austrian society. Since the 60s and 70s against the "guest worker" generation, against refugees from the Western Balkans who had to flee to Austria in the 90s because of the war in Yugoslavia and since 2015 against Syrian refugees. But there is also structural racism against migrants from Latin American countries or African countries. The problem of racism is far from being solved in Austria. Therefore, we urgently need an action plan against structural racism and it must be enforced politically. This concerns all areas of society, from politics, the police, to the judiciary, schools, public administration to civil society. 

I still remember exactly when Marcus Omofuma was murdered, all media played down police violence; with the murder of George Floyd, the world could no longer look away because we filmed and published it ourselves - the brutal and bitter truth. And only if we continue to look closely and voice the truth can we make sure that the white majority society notices what we have to experience every day and only then can we change something. This timeline will make sure that Black lives and Black History are never, ever forgotten. We continue to fight every day! 
Today we stand here for our freedom, for the freedom of our children and for a more just future for all. For justice we take to the streets so that one day we will live in a society where equality and solidarity becomes a reality.


Vanessa Spanbauer

Historian's Statement by Vanessa Spanbauer

I am Vanessa Spanbauer, historian and journalist from Vienna and I am involved in the timeline for Allow us to reintroduce ourselves because I started to look into the history of Black people in Austria.

Black history is barely told in Austria, which contributes to the fact that Black people are seen as new arrivals and as people without past or anchorage. Creating a timeline is not easy because we have limited sources and they are mostly based on writings of white people. To focus on Black resistance is therefore important and simultaneously not so easy. Nevertheless, it is important to tell these (hi)stories, even if I can only briefly introduce them within this scope.

If you want to know more about this, you can consult sources by Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Claudia Unterweger, Mary L. Rommney-Schaab, Walter Ajaegbu Chukwubuike, Simon Inou, Walter Sauer or Niko Wahl, Philipp Rohrbach, Tal Adler and many more to learn more about Black Austrian History.

The Solimans

The Solimans - not your spectacle!

18th century

As early as the 18th century, there was Angelo Soliman, the first Black man known by name, and his daughter Josephine, the first Black woman known by name, who can even be described as politically active. For she campaigned for her father to be buried after he was stuffed and put on display after his death. For a long time, Black people were entertainment for Europeans – as you can see, this took the cruellest excesses. But even before that, there was a presence of Black people in Austria, about which we know only limited things. How important and exciting their perspectives would be. 

The "Ashantidorf"

Through a white gaze - the 'Ashantidorf'

Time of the Human zoos

Of course, even if you want to tell an empowering story, you have to list dark chapters of Black history. This also includes so-called Human zoos, such as the Ashanti Village, where Black people - especially from West Africa - were fenced in and exhibited. To the entertainment of Europeans. We do not know much about these people. But they complained about their treatment. Because the way white people want to see them, naked and living in villages, is not how they wanted to be staged. "In Africa, we couldn't be like that. Everybody would laugh.” Toiko, one of these men, is reputed to have said. 

Black people during National Socialism

Black people during National Socialism

1938 - 1945

The Holocaust was a turning point that affected many groups in different ways. Here, too we have to talk about it, because it is hardly a topic. Black people in the Mauthausen concentration camp or the examinations and measurements of Black people are parts of the history of Black people in the Nazi era, some of which we still know little about. Here, coming to terms with the past is only happening gradually through research projects. An important voice in this is Mary L. Romney-Schaab, who tells the story of her father Lionel Romney in the book "An Afro Caribean in the Nazi Era: From Papiamentu to German" and outlines the detours through which her father ended up in Mauthausen and how his life continued. 

WWII and the GI kids

WWII and the GI kids

1945 - 1955

If you want to tell Black history from a Black perspective, you can only really start after the Second World War. Here, for example, the perspectives of the children of Austrian women with Black GIs born between 1945 and 1955 are gripping. Many of these so-called occupation or liberation children thought they were the only Black children in Austria, which shaped their lives immensely. They shared their life stories as part of the exhibition Black Austria. The Children of African-American GIs at the Austrian Museum of Folk Life and Folk Art in 2016, and through this met for the first time as a group - a moment that did what is so important - usher in Black togetherness. 

Black alliances

Black alliances, associations and unions

1960s - 1990s

Being and banding together is very important for resistance. Forming alliances and thus structures is necessary not only to survive but also to flourish in a world that is not made for you and is characterized by white supremacy and racism. In the 1960s, the first African embassies were established in Vienna. This resulted in another group of people coming to Austria from the African continent, in addition to students and priests. The first associations were also founded at this time, such as the Ghana Students Union or the Nigerian Students Union of Austria. Associations were always very significant for the first generation of Black people in Austria. Because togetherness is empowering. In 1996, Pamoja is founded; this association leads the participation of the second generation of people of African descent in the discourse. Much political work follows. With the research platform Black History, under the direction of Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, historical developments are also examined. Of course, many people of the second generation are also involved outside of Pamoja and begin to organize and initiate projects. 

Rising up against institutional racism

Fight the Power! Rising up against institutional racism

1999 - 2003

The years 1999 and 2003 are particularly marked by brutality in Austrian Black history. The murders of Marcus Omofuma in 1999 and Seibane Wague in 2003 represent important cornerstones that go hand in hand with an increasing politicization of the African and Black communities.

The protests in 2020 did not come out of nowhere. Over decades, networks of resistance against racism and violence formed. In 2018, this situation also erupts in the form of protests and solidarity. For, when rapper T-Ser held a meeting with his crew in the park in the seventh district to discuss his music, the police issued actions that can only be classified as racial profiling. A racist practice known to many non-white people and in particular Black people. This led to the movement #nichtmituns - under this hashtag, a movement was formed that urgently addressed the issue of racial profiling. It was repeatedly used for other campaigns as well.

Black Lives Matter Vienna

Black Lives Matter Vienna - a "change gon' come"?


Over the past year, #BLM has helped shape the discourse far from Corona. A lot has happened. Across Austria, a total of 100,000 people took to the streets in this cause - 50,000 in Vienna alone on one day.

Determining our own future

Determining our own future - projects, initiatives and sustainable, community-led movements across Austria

2021 and the future

Our story does not end here, for there is much to do. Strengthened by 2020 and the many alliances that Black people have been able to form this year, we are building on the work of previous generations. For already in the last 20 to 25 years there has been a lot of groundwork and numerous projects that have emerged from Black communities. Many new initiatives, organizations and projects such as Black Voices referendum, ADOE, Schwarze Geschwister für Power (Black Siblings for Power), the AEWTASS educational project, the Black Women's Community Youth Group, Black Movement Austria, and others will shape us for the next few years and continue to make new history. We should be open to rewrite and retell Black history.

Rossel Chaslie

Artist's Statement by Rossel Chaslie (EN)

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