In 2016, Sartep Namiq fled from Iraqi Kurdistan to Berlin. In a utopian comic book, realised together with cyberpunk legend Bruce Sterling and a new star of the German comic scene Felix Mertikat, Namiq processes his experiences as a refugee and in the Tempelhof emergency shelter. The comic depicts an alternate reality, a picture of a better world.
Sartep, the protagonist of the story, is an artist. Fleeing from his home country, he records his own experiences and stories people tell him in drawings he creates on his smartphone. He and his friend get separated just as they reach Tempelhof, the miserable emergency shelter located beyond the walls of a futuristic Berlin. Left to fend for himself in the slum, he experiences violence and rejection, but also solidarity and new friendship. Then something unbelievable happens. His drawings suddenly become reality – fleeting strokes turn into physical objects, houses, cars, tools, and in the blink of an eye, a new, fantastic city emerges, making the dream of a better world for everyone within reach.
In his own life, Sartep Namiq hoped for a better future in Berlin, too. For 12 months he lived with 900 other people in a hangar at the former Tempelhof airport. Life in the emergency shelter was unbearable, and neither he nor anyone else knew what would happen to them from one day to the next.
It was there that he got to know Alexander Koch, the director of the organisation 'Neuen Auftraggeber', or 'New Patrons' in English. Koch talked to refugees to find out how they could benefit from the organisation's model. The non-profit supports people in realising projects that are intended to make a difference in their environment. Over the course of several conversations, Namiq developed an idea for a comic where the Tempelhof shelter is transformed into a fantastic city and a place of refuge for everyone.
The story encourages readers to take a different perspective, to really see their fellow human beings and to break down possible prejudices they may have against refugees. For Namiq, it was important to make the story as accessible as possible. This meant making the comic work without words so that people speaking any language could understand the story regardless of their background or education.
Namiq sought a vision, a science fiction story involving everyone working together to create a better world, a world in which everyone's dreams, desires and abilities develop freely without hindrances. And so, the comic 'Temple of Refuge', commissioned by Sartep Namiq, emerged.
Creating a Better World Together
Over the course of four years, many people were involved in making this idea a reality. The 'New Patrons' brought Namiq together with Bruce Sterling, internationally renowned as one of the founders of cyberpunk literature. With the help of two other authors, the story continued to develop, ultimately becoming a comic book illustrated by graphic artist Felix Mertikat. Over more than 80 pages and entirely without words, the story shows what the world could be like: a creative, respectful and non-violent life of togetherness.
For Namiq, his own world has also become a different place. He has settled into his life in Germany with his own flat, a job in a restaurant, and as a new Berlin resident, he is socially engaged in his community. The project has also opened many new doors for him.
'Everyone Can Understand the Book – All Over the World'
Excerpts from 'The journey is not over when you arrive." An Interview with Sartep Namiq and Alexander Koch
Interview: Denhart v. Harling with the assistance of interpreter Razwan Anwar Mohamed
Alexander, for the 'New Patrons' organisation, 'Temple of Refuge' is a special project. You offer citizens the opportunity to commission artistic projects that are intended to make a difference in society. How did Sartep's assignment come about?
Alexander Koch: We initially talked to eight young men from Iraqi Kurdistan. Over several weeks, we met outside in parks and talked about the situation in the Tempelhof temporary emergency shelter, where life in the huge, cold hangars was hard, and about what could be done. One day Sartep came to the park alone. After 12 months in the emergency shelter, the others had lost the conviction to think about the future in any way. But Sartep said to me, 'I am here! I want to undertake a project, doing it for everyone who no longer has the strength to do so. I am an optimist and we have to do something.' And so Sartep became the project commissioner.
If, with my story, I can reach five people out of a hundred who are prejudiced against people like me, that would be a great success.
Sartep, why did you choose a comic format to tell the story?
Sartep Namiq: I have been around, and everywhere I went I saw that people were constantly using their mobile phones, were always online. Time flies by and people usually do not just relax with a book. They read on the side, reading on their mobile phones, in social networks. That is why I wanted the story to be a comic book and make as much as possible understood in a small amount of space. When people look at the comic book, they should be able to grasp the story quickly and understand it immediately. That is why it was also important to me that the comic work without words. The pictures convey the story so instantaneously and the layout is so clear that it can hardly be misunderstand, even if someone cannot read at all. Everyone can understand the book – all over the world, without the boundaries that language sometimes sets. This is important.
Who did you have in mind? Who is your audience?
Namiq: The comic is meant for the general public, for everyone. But in particular, I created it for non-refugees. Displaced persons have already gone down this path; their experiences are comparable to mine. For them, such thoughts and feelings are nothing new. The comic is more for people who have no experience being displaced and who may even be hostile towards refugees. If, with my story, I can reach five people out of a hundred who are prejudiced against people like me, that would be a great success.
Artists and Contributors
Commissioned by Sartep Namiq
Story: Christopher Tauber, Matthias Zuber, based on an idea by Bruce Sterling
Illustration: Felix Mertikat
Colour: Jacob Müller
Mediation and direction: Alexander Koch
Co-mediation: Natasha Aruri, Soran Ahmet
Project management: Julia Jung, Karola Matschke
'Die Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber' team: Boushra Adi, Kathrin Aichele, Anna Freedman, Stefanie Kinsky, David Magnus, Clara Schulze, Henriette Sölter
The comic book was published by Egmont Comic Collection in March 2021. The project was supported by the 'Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber', or 'New Patrons', in cooperation with ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen). It was funded by the Federal Foreign Office and supported by the Fondation de France. Print copies of the comic can be purchased for 10.00 euros (D) / 10.30 euros (A). All proceeds go to the relief organisation Sea-Watch e.V., which rescues refugees in danger at sea. It is also digitally available free of charge in its entirety.
The 'Gesellschaft der Neuen Auftraggeber', or 'New Patrons', is for people who want to make a difference but have little opportunity to actively shape cultural life. Clients that want to address pressing issues in their environment can commission new projects in art, literature, architecture or music from experienced international artists. The 'New Patrons' provide the framework, supporting everyone involved in commissioning, financing and in the execution of projects. The end products are non-profit, non-commercial cultural assets in the public domain.