“In the last decades interest in hunger artists has declined considerably. Whereas in earlier days there was good money to be earned putting on major productions of this sort under one’s own management, nowadays that is totally impossible. Those were different times. Back then the hunger artist captured the attention of the entire city. On fine days the cage was dragged out into the open air, and then the hunger artist was put on display particularly for the children”

Franz Kafka, A Hunger Artist (1922)

As a powerful allegory of artists’ existential worries, Kafka’s tale is more apt than ever. A global pandemic, war and energy shortages, inflation and general uncertainty are affecting almost all sections of the population worldwide, but especially the artists, who have always had to pay for their independence with economic risks, but whose very existence is now threatened in many cases. This applies in particular to artists in countries that do not have state support.

As an outsider, the hunger artist basically feels misunderstood by everyone. And a certain haughtiness which is not alien to today’s well-established art scene, shines through at the very end of the story, when the protagonist answers the warden’s question as to why he really wants to starve: “because I couldn’t find food which I enjoyed. Those were his last words, but in his failing eyes there was the firm, if no longer proud, conviction that he was continuing to fast”.

Even if the phenomenon of the starving artist is widespread in all genres of art, the visual arts lend itself particularly well, not only because iconic figures such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Gauguin and Toulouse-Lautrec were impoverished, but because since modernism “poor materials” such as rotten wood, rusty iron or cheap fabrics have found their way into art. The message lies in the precarious object itself.

The exhibition A Hunger Artist is organized by Goethe-Zentrum Baku and supported by Kapellhaus.

The project brings together artists from Azerbaijan, Brazil, Georgia, Kazakhstan as well as from Germany.


Alfons Huq, Goethe-Zentrum Baku


Leyli Alakbərova / Azerbaijan
Mark Brandenburg / Germany
Nino Kvrivishvili / Georgia
Maxim Malhado / Brazil
Elturan Mammadov / Azerbaijan
Thomas Rentmeister / Germany
Sabina Shikhlinskaya / Azerbaijan
Saule Suleimenova / Kazakhstan