top of page


05/28 - 07/17/2021

curated by Daniela Baumann

An envelope. Two addresses in squiggly, pale blue letters, one located in Germany, the other in Cuba. This was all the artist Alina Simmelbauer had in her hands in 2011 when she decided to search for her father, thus tracing her own history and identity.


Simmelbauer's Cuban father was one of about 190,000 migrant workers who came to the GDR from countries such as Cuba, Vietnam, and Mozambique between 1962 and 1990 to work or study there for three to five years. Their right of residence expired as soon as their employment ended, regardless of the personal ties that had developed in the meantime. Intimate relationships between so-called contract workers and citizens of the GDR were neither welcomed nor accepted. Children of such relationships usually grew up with only one biological parent—in a society that kept silent about their origins while letting them feel the difference of their background.


Ten years ago, Alina Simmelbauer began to research not only her family’s history but also the largely unexplored subject of contract workers and their children. The artist documented the process of this investigation with primarily photographic means, but also with audio and video recordings, which were often created intuitively in an attempt to capture her feelings and impressions.


“Wir träumen allein” is a site-specific multimedia installation shown in the gallery of Kunstverein Dresden for the first time. Utilizing photographs, moving images, and audio elements, the artist creates a multi-layered immersive space that invites the public to partake in her subjective experience of searching, while confronting them with a buried part of GDR history. The installation combines poetic portraits, still-lifes and street views taken in Germany and Cuba, with personal memorabilia, archival materials as well as sound and film sequences.


A distorted freeze-frame of an official meeting between Fidel Castro and Erich Honecker in 1972 highlights how abstract political decisions made in the former GDR have left a lasting mark on the fates of thousands of young people and their families right up to the present day. Archival photographs of the accommodations and workplaces of former contract workers stage the GDR's much-cited “friendship between people” with citizens of fellow socialist states. This propagandistic portrayal corresponded to the state's self-image of an anti-racist society but did not reflect the real relationship between the East German population and the “foreign laborers,” who were tolerated as workers but not particularly welcomed.


By supplementing such official (visual) documents with private family photos, Alina Simmelbauer inserts her personal story into historical contexts. Old postcard motifs with paradise-like Caribbean scenes offer a world of fictitious ideas that filled the gaps in the artist's autobiography for years. Charged with the militant-romantic clichés of state propaganda, Cuba was an unattainable utopia for the vast majority of GDR citizens, and the country remained elusive to Simmelbauer for a long time. A blurry Google Maps view of a seaside villa documents her efforts trying to imagine the life of her absent father despite the distance.


With the artist's first trip to Cuba, fairly abstract research work turned into active artistic exploration dealing with questions of identity and belonging. Diffuse sound clips convey atmospheric impressions and testify to Alina Simmelbauer’s attempt to enter a foreign social environment. Like the views showing urban landscapes and living spaces that trace the formerly close (East) German-Cuban relations, these recordings are also part of a process of self-positioning. Other photographs revolve around the numerous “what if...” questions that unite all of the children of former contract workers. They negotiate a past that is at once irreversible and unfinished. This state of limbo permeates Simmelbauer's installation and conveys the openness that characterizes the artist's personal history and identity.


The presentation at Kunstverein Dresden gallery combines images, sound, and video recordings in a collage-like web of reference points and layers of relationships. Much like a palimpsest, “Wir träumen allein” layers overlapping perspectives, emotions, and memories in order to reflect the complexity of postmodern German identities.

Alina Simmelbauer

Born and raised in Thüringen, Alina Simmelbauer is a photographer currently based in Berlin. Her artistic works deal conceptually with questions of identity that are influenced by her own family experiences. For her master's degree in photography, Alina Simmelbauer studied at the ISA Instituto Superior de Arte Havana, Cuba (2011) and at Burg Giebichenstein Halle/Saale (2012). In 2020, she graduated from the master class at the Ostkreuzschule für Fotografie Berlin led by Prof. Ute Mahler and Ingo Taubhorn. In addition, she has been active in art education for many years, organizing photographic workshops with different topics, working for the Education Program of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, the Society for Humanistic Photography (GfHF), the Jewish Museum Berlin and C/O Berlin, among others.

Simmelbauer was awarded with a DAAD scholarship for her project Wir träumen allein (We dream alone). For her series Garcías Tochter (García’s Daughter), she received funding from the Kulturstiftung Thüringen and was included in the shortlist of the 11th Kassel Dummy Award 2020 as wells as the MACK First Book Award 2021. In 2017, she was nominated for the Hellerau Photography Award and Vonovia Award and in 2020 for the Kuala Lumpur International Photo Award. Most recently, she was shortlisted for the Format International Photography Festival.

Daniela Yvonne Baumann

In her work as a freelance curator, writer, and lecturer, Daniela Yvonne Baumann focuses on contemporary photography. As the former director of The Walther Collection in Neu-Ulm (Germany), she has organized numerous photography exhibitions, including Structures of Identity: Photography from The Walther Collection, an exhibition that toured the United States, Mexico, Spain, and the Netherlands. She co-edited the catalog Recent Histories: Contemporary African Photography and Video Art, which was named one of the ten best photography books of the year by The New York Times Magazine in 2017 and has also been nominated for the 2018 ICP Infinity Award in the category “Critical Writing and Research.” In 2020, she contributed to the anthology Imagining Everday Life: Engagements with Vernacular Photography, which won the Paris Photo Aperture Photobook Award as “Photography Catalogue of the Year.”

Gefördert durch die Stiftung Kunstfonds im Rahmen des Sonderförderprogramms 20/21 NEUSTART KULTUR, die Landeshauptstadt Dresden, Amt für Kultur und Denkmalschutz, und die Stiftung Osterberg für Kunst und Kultur.

bottom of page