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Counter-grammars of Justice

On Three Doors an exhibition by Forensic Architecture / Forensis, Initiative 19. Februar Hanau, Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh at Württembergischen Kunstverein Stuttgart.

  • Apr 25 2024
  • Elisa Fuenzalida
    is a researcher and cultural worker. She has directed research projects such as El futuro era tu cuerpo, Ensamblajes del Cuidado and Afectos en Re-existencia. She is coordinator and co-curator of the Cátedra Decolonial Anibal Quijano at the Museo Reina Sofía, co-editor of the journal Arts of the Working Class and mediator in the citizen laboratory platform Redes por el Clima.

A video has surfaced on social media, capturing a disturbing incident at the Unter den Linden U- Bahn station in Berlin. In the video a white German-speaking man can be seen making a throat-slitting gesture towards a girl on the opposite platform wearing a kufiya. The quality of the video is quite good, making the man’s facial features easily recognizable. However, it appears that the police are not interested in utilizing their facial recognition tools to identify him and that this incident will join the growing tide of intentionally overlooked instances of racist, anti-Muslim, xenophobic, and anti-immigrant aggression. Contrastingly, although the most recent police acts of harassment, aggression, and impediment of the exercise of freedom of speech and assembly have been widely denounced and well documented by protesters, independent journalists, and civil society organizations, these incidents remain systematically blocked from reaching beyond the confines of social media. In this political environment, the evidence of white supremacism has become incriminatory and a systematic justification for state brutality against whoever holds it. Udi Raz, an activist and board member of the now-criminalized Jewish organization Jüdische Stimme, starkly observes, “Germany has become a dangerous place for all non-Aryans.” [1] Echoing this sentiment, the Berlin-based Jewish filmmaker Dror Drayan - who was born in Jerusalem - warns, “None of this is exceptional. It will get worse, and we need to be vigilant.” [2]

Three Doors/In memory of Gökhan Gültekin, Sedat Gürbüz, Said Nesar Hashemi, Mercedes Kierpacz, Hamza Kurtović, Vili Viorel Păun, Fatih Saraçoğlu, Ferhat Unvar, Kaloyan Verkov, Oury Jallo and all victims of racist violence by Forensic Architecture, [3] Forensis, [4] Initiative 19 Februar Hanau and Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh at the Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart [5] in collaboration with the Landeshauptstadt Stuttgart. The exhibition is dedicated to two cases of fatal racist violence: the 2020 attack in Hanau, and the murder of Oury Jalloh in 2005 in a prison cell in Dessau. Overwhelming evidence shows that the German state has exhibited a stark and alarming display of negligence, and a chilling level of intentional brutality in these cases. 

In February 19, 2020, motivated by racism and right-wing extremism, a neo-Nazi shot nine people dead at various locations in Hanau in the space of six minutes, including patrons at the La Votre Bar and the Midnight Shisha Bar on Heumarkt, as well as the Arena Bar and a kiosk directly adjacent in Hanau-Kesselstadt. A victim even attempted to alert the police, but the the calls went unanswered. The police response was delayed, and their SWAT team claimed not to have heard the gunshots fired by the perpetrator, who also killed his mother and then himself after the attack. The Initiative 19. Februar Hanau victims’ families, survivors, and supporters collaborated with Forensic Architecture/Forensis to investigate the attack and its racist context. 

The exhibition unfolds across three main halls, each radiating an intense whiteness that evokes a sense of clinical precision. As Hans D. Christ, director of the venue in partnership with Iris Dressler, has pointed out, the decision to keep the exhibition design minimal - avoiding unnecessary aesthetic interventions - has proved to be a prudent one. This approach allowed the focus to remain on the powerful testimonies and the overwhelming evidence. 

Adjacent to the first exhibition hall of the Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart is a dedication and a floral tribute stand. They serve as a stark reminder of the irreplaceability of the individuals whose untimely and brutal murders demand justice. The first room is organized around the elements that form the context of the Hanau crimes, and the ongoing struggle for accountability. On one side of the room, ten videos document the testimonies of the victims’ relatives and survivors. Opposite these, a large diagram of events stretches across the entire wall. Completing the scene is a triptych of videos dissecting the ordeal that Vili-Viorel Păun endured during his brave confrontation with the perpetrator, and the homicidal disaster that ensued from the failures of the emergency call. 


fig. 1


The Testimonies of the Relatives and Survivors about the Night of the Crime in Hanau and its Consequences (2022) is displayed at eye-level in vertical video-panels throughout the hall space, so that the visitor can move freely among them. These testimonies are reenactments of the family members’ and survivors’ statements to the Hessian State Parliament’s investigative committee, and represent the result of persistent demands and protests by the victims’ families and their supporters. This pressure led to the establishment of the Hanau investigation committee (UNA) in July of 2021. The parliamentary inquiry is intended to be public, yet its reach seems limited, extending only to specific journalists. Without exhibitions like this, powerful statements that capture the essence of racist crimes, and also the bitter struggle thereafter, risk being lost in the din of events. 


fig. 2


The adjacent wall in the hall is occupied by the videos that make up Simply Silent: The Emergency Call Disaster of Hanau (2022). This video triptych presents an account of the Hanau shootings and the subsequent failure of the emergency hotline system. Using 3D cartography and footage from German television, as well as cartographic zooms, timelines, and movements of a virtual camera, the videos focus on the story of Vili-Viorel Păun, who lost his life in a brave attempt to stop the racist murderer. Despite having been shot at, Vili pursued the offender, even managing to block the gunman’s car while trying to alert the police via the emergency number 110. He was unable to get through to an operator and was later shot dead at the second crime scene. The videos, crafted by Initiative 19 Februar Hanau, exemplify the precise utilization of forensic methods and tools by civil society initiatives. A long wall in the second hallway displays A Timeline of Collective Action (2022–2024), a diagram that documents the ongoing journey of victims’ families and the Initiative for justice, highlighting their efforts to expand collective actions, engage new partners, and assert their demands across diverse platforms such as legal, political, cultural spaces, civil society, and media. 


fig. 3


The six-minute attack, captured primarily by CCTV cameras, formed the crux of the police investigation. However, the outdated systems often displayed inaccurate times, necessitating corrections to almost all the CCTV timestamps in the police reports. The corrected timeline, represented by green bars, also accounted for a two-minute and twenty-two-second discrepancy in the police helicopter camera time, which was overlooked in the police files. After synchronizing all cameras, a comprehensive account of the incident was created. The diagram illustrates the perpetrator’s movements as the timeline’s density increased, marking the moment of entry into the room. This narrative is laid out in the diagram work Ereignisse und Ungewissheiten.

In the practice of Forensic Architecture, the understanding of space goes beyond the conventional confines of physical structures, guided by their openness to non-Western philosophical, political, and infrastructural perspectives as applied to architecture. It is where the gap deepens between the traditional police investigation and the agency’s adept explorations that demonstrates the power of their approach. This aspect is exemplified in Three doors. Within the corridors of this architectural exploration, we encounter doors that are entrances and exits, but also spaces of revelation, in a sense that challenges ordinary ideas and preconceptions regarding space and matter. 


fig. 4


The short video Door I: The Emergency Exit. Racist Terror Attack in Hanau: The Arena Bar (2021) focuses on how and why, on the night of the attack, the victims did not attempt to escape through the emergency exit. Relatives have reported that they were aware the door was locked under police orders to prevent the young attendees from escaping during regular raids. These claims underlined the intense police scrutiny and profiling that the Arena Bar endured. Despite these claims, the public prosecutor declined to investigate, stating that it was impossible to confirm whether the door was locked, or if the victims could have reached the exit in time. The video presents the results of an independent forensic investigation, which included an analysis of CCTV footage and witness testimonies. The evidence indicates the victims had sufficient time to reach the exit, but the door was locked. 


fig. 5


The second door, entitled The perpetrator’s House. Racist Terror Attack in Hanau: The Police Operation (2022), refers to the unattended door of the house of the murderer. The video, based on 3-D modeling, audio analysis, ground truth, field work, and synchronisation methodologies, is projected in a separate darkened room emphasizing the grave atmosphere to which visitors must return from the abstract realms of numbers. The audio recordings, featured in the film, are eloquent regarding the frustration and confusion, as is palpable in the voices of helicopter pilots voices. Their conversations not only reveal how clueless they are about their intended destination, they also reveal a pattern of inadequate information sharing. This incident not only highlighted the helicopter’s aimless journey that night, but also exposed a glaring lapse in the surveillance of the target house by the police officers who failed to fulfill their duties. It shows how, despite immediate notification, the police response was delayed by an hour, and entry into the house was further delayed by four hours. This delay allowed the perpetrator to murder his mother and to commit suicide, thereby eliminating the possibility of a trial. Special forces officers stationed outside the house claimed not to have heard any gunshots. In June 2021, it was revealed that 13 of these officers, who were part of far-right group chats, were on duty that night. Despite this, Hessen’s then-Minister-President Volker Bouffier asserted that possible right-wing extremist attitudes doesn’t necessarily imply police misconduct. The perpetrator’s father, who survived, claimed to have heard shots only from outside the house. Known for sharing his son’s racist views, he was found guilty of hate speech in October 2021.

The third door leads to cell number five in the Dessau police station in Saxony-Anhalt. On January 7, 2005, Oury Jalloh, an asylum seeker from Sierra Leone, was found burned to death in this cell. His ordeal began with an arrest, a strip search, and the confiscation of his possessions. He was then confined to a basement cell and bound to a mattress. A fire erupted in the cell hours later, extinguished only after it had claimed Oury’s life. According to the police account, despite his hands and legs being bound, and with only a mattress and a lighter - oddly discovered three days later - at his disposal, Jalloh supposedly ignited the fire, creating a blaze so intense it could incinerate a human body. This preposterous conclusion, was contested by the Initiative Oury Jalloh, and has been backed by international experts. It’s findings present quite a different perspective. They indicate, for example, that Oury had sustained severe bone fractures before his death.


fig. 6


In collaboration with the Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, FA/Forensis has meticulously recreated both digital and physical models of the cell door, and a portion of the adjacent corridor. Oury Jalloh’s Cell: Smoke Traces (2022), is built to a 1:1 scale in a separate hall, and it is complemented by a video and a display of journalistic textual materials that contextualize Oury Jalloh’s murder through the lens of systemic police brutality such as has occurred in Dessau. As I stand facing a reproduction of the green tile walls of the cell, my gaze is drawn to a vertical rectangle. This is where the fire originated. It bears a single word: “Matratze” (mattress). Photographs and video footage are projected into the spaces where police captured visual evidence mere hours after the fire was extinguished. A careful examination of these images, particularly of the cell door, show remnants of smoke that confirm that the door remained open for the majority, if not all, of the fire’s duration. This supports the claims of Oury’s family, and of the Initiative, that the fire was started by police to murder Oury, or, perhaps more likely, to cover up his murder. 


fig. 7


The last video in the sequence is entitled 17 Years of Self-Organized Investigation into the Oury Jalloh Case (2022). It showcases the timeline of the Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, a self-organized group that has been working tirelessly since 2013 as part of the Break the Silence campaign. The group - alongside Oury’s family, who are located in Guinea in western Africa - has been advocating for clarity and justice. Protests, research, and pressure on the relevant authorities have all been means deployed to this end. Luke Harrow and Nadine Saeed are members of the new organization Recherche Zentrum, which has emerged from the Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, advocating for self-organized forensic investigation. They were present throughout the exhibition’s entire inauguration, generously providing further details on this and other open cases. One such case is that of Hans-Jürgen Rose, who was detained on the night of December 7, 1997, by the officers Thomas B. and Manfred H. In a building adjacent to the police station, Hans-Jürgen Rose was brutally beaten with batons. Furthermore, there are overlaps or continuities of personnel in various alleged cases of torture and murder that have taken place in this police station, leading up to the case of Oury Jalloh.


fig. 8


In the inaugural presentation of the exhibition at the Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart, on the 15th of March, the International Day Against Police Brutality, Robert Trafford, of Forensis, echoing the sentiment expressed by the filmmaker Jonathan Glazer in his Oscar acceptance speech for “The Zone of Interest” the previous week, made a plea to confront the results of the investigation displayed in the exhibition, and the ongoing impunity that shields the dehumanization and criminalization that, at its peak, enables the extermination of racialized individuals, Arabs, migrants, and those who stand in solidarity with them. The exhibition’s inauguration was profoundly marked by the physical presence of the victims’ families, their voices choked with emotion, and their testimonies rich with dignity and courage. This set the tone for an opening that was as much a tribute as it was a call to action.


fig. 9


As I observe the images of marches and vigils sequentially unfolding in 17 Years of Self-Organized Investigation into the Oury Jalloh Case, I am filled with deep respect and admiration for those who valiantly combat police brutality and tirelessly seek accountability. These organizations, despite being pitted against significantly better resourced and privileged systems, marshall their flexibility, their stories,, and the available platforms to challenge the prevailing norms. Their resilience and adaptability stand as a testament to the power of civil organizations, a testament that calls for celebration through concrete action. With this thought in mind, my gaze falls on the closed windows of the neighboring buildings by the marches in the video. I ponder about the individuals within those structures, those who opt to stay indoors, or to escape to the countryside for the weekend, those unsettled by the resonating chants of protest. The doors in this exhibition symbolize missed opportunities for justice, a space where only retrospective analysis, forensic science, and commemoration speak. However, perhaps the present is a matter of windows, either open or closed, a matter of not turning a blind eye to police violence and state censorship. Even if we disagree with the political positions of those on the receiving end of state violence. The urgency of the hour extends beyond retrospective analysis to proactive vigilance and immediate responses. It is our collective responsibility to open our eyes to state violence and censorship, to act now so that we can prevent these crimes and create counter-narratives of justice, positioning forensics as a tool for prevention rather than just retrospective accountability.



    [1]: Jewish German ARRESTED Over Ga Speaks Out - w/. Udi Raz

    [2]: Unpublished interview in the context of the emergency press conference of Palästine Kongress, by the author.

    [3]: Forensic Architecture is a multidisciplinary research group founded in 2010 by Israeli architect Eyal Weizman and is based at Goldsmiths, University of London. The group investigates cases of human rights violations worldwide, including violence perpetrated by states, police forces, the military, and corporations. The teams of architects, scientists, artists, filmmakers, software developers, investigative journalists, archaeologists, and lawyers carry out their investigations on behalf of civil-society groups, organizations, and individuals. In their work, they use state-of-the-art technologies of spatial and architectural analysis, open source applications, and digital modeling as well as advanced methods of documentary research and situational interviews. 

    [4]: Forensis, the Berlin-based sister organization of Forensic Architecture, is coordinated by the Greek architect Dimitra Andritsou and the British journalist and researcher Robert Trafford.

    [5]: Following the successful launch of the exhibition at the Frankfurter Kunstverein (2022), the project has so far been shown at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt in Berlin (2022), and, in part, at the Neustädter Rathaus in Hanau (2023). In 2024, in addition to the Württembergischer Kunstverein, it will also be shown at the Museum im Kulturspeicher Würzburg.



    Cover: Forensic Architecture/Forensis. DOOR II: THE PERPETRATOR’S HOUSE. Racist Terror Attack in Hanau: The Police Operation, (2022). Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida.

    fig. 1: Initiative 19. February Hanau. Testimonies of the Relatives and Survivors about the Night of the Crime in Hanau and its Consequences (2022). Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida.

    fig. 2, 3: Pola Sell, Katharina Pelosi, Dimitros Drikos, Marcin Wierzchowski. Forensic Architecture/Forensis & Initiative 19. Februar Hanau. Simply Silent: The Emergency Call Disaster of Hanau. Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart (2022). Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida

    fig. 4: Forensic Architecture/Forensis. Door I: The Emergency Exit. Racist Terror Attack in Hanau: The Arena Bar (2021).  Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida 

    fig. 5: Forensic Architecture/Forensis. DOOR II: THE PERPETRATOR’S HOUSE. Racist Terror Attack in Hanau: The Police Operation, (2022). Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida.

    fig. 6, 7, 8: Forensic Architecture/Forensis and Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh. DOOR III: CELL 5, DESSAU POLICE STATION Oury Jalloh’s Cell: Smoke Traces, (2022). Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida. 

    fig. 9: Initiative in Gedenken an Oury Jalloh, Leftside Media, (2022). DOOR III: CELL 5, DESSAU POLICE STATION. 17 Years of Self-Organized Investigation into the Oury Jalloh Case. Württembergische Kunstverein Stuttgart. Photo by Elisa Fuenzalida. 



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