Soon after the attack on the World Trade center in New York, the US government issued a suite of ethnically based travel restrictions which resulted in the detention of citizens from 32 Muslim nations and threatened the entire American system of asylum. Tighter rules, including half baked 'watch' and 'no fly' lists were being established each day. It occurred to us that while living in Germany, myself being half Jewish and my wife being German, we were well positioned to remind people of how slippery the slope of ethnic and religious restriction had been in recent German history, and how quickly it had led to unimaginable state violence. It was our position that no reminder could be too provocative, loud or insolent if it drew attention to a process of incremental juridical dehumanization that led a nation into genocide.
We rented a corner store in the Adler Strasse and hung the exterior with translucent ‘street scenes’ from the 1930s. We then set up a small library with comfortable seating in the back, a cozy Madrasa-Midrash where we served tea and invited discussion on the subject of the Semites, the people of Abraham, both Islamic and Jewish. In order to reach that library visitors passed through an exhibition of couture, divided into two collections of 'compulsory wear’, in legal terms, or 'absolute musts’, in fashion lingo. The first, Semite! was of articles of clothing entirely composed of yellow stars of David. The second, Burkas! explored a garment form designed to erase the female figure, here presented in ascending levels of erotic transparency, accessorized with a witty group of masks and veils. The idea was to incite as furious a reaction as possible so as to start a more serious discussion of a far more dangerous topic. The reaction was immediate and hysterical on all sides.