“The frontal lobe represents everyday life in the new culture,” John Fanning explains to his fellow class mates in a conversation entirely in German. “Refugees in Germany need to learn a new language and develop a sense of orientation in a new society. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain that controls these cognitive skills.” As a junior majoring in neuroscience and psychology, Fanning had chosen to paint the human brain in an art project that brings together the German language and knowledge about the contemporary situation of refugees in Germany. While he covered the frontal region of the brain in black, red, and yellow—a tricolor resembling the German flag, the brain stem was painted in the colors of the Syrian flag, connecting its control over basic body functions to the concept of national origin.
Fanning’s acrylic paint on canvas was one of the 20 pieces of art displayed in the exhibit “ANGEKOMMEN—Having Arrived,” housed at the Media Library of the Anderson Language and Technology Center from Nov 13-24. Through content-based instruction that included a documentary by the UN Refugee agency, students in the intermediate German language course learned about humanitarian migrants who have embarked on the long trek to Europe and have encountered a new culture in Germany. The discussion of integrating asylum seekers—a process with economic, social, and cultural dimensions—led students to ponder the meaning of the German past participle angekommen(arrived), one that moves beyond a physical change of location and towards an inner arrival, a new state of consciousness. The active application of German semantics was featured in art productions that enabled students to engage hands-on in class materials and draw connections between the practice of German language skills and the development of critical perspectives on current world affairs.