The Walls That Divide Us
The globalization process has suppressed the spatio-temporal limits in the western hemisphere, tearing open new civilizational horizons. Today, the one-way power relationship defining centre and periphery has disappeared—the periphery is the new centre. Within this intellectual framework, contemporary events that have been understood from a European perspective have to be contextualized differently. This is the case of the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, which many consider to mark the "end of history" and the beginning of a new age free of unrest. However, although the sequence of changes that took place in the former Eastern Europe revolutionized the political landscape of the continent and of the globe, other 1989-occuring situations contributed to the symbolic character of that year. For example, the protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China; and within the artistic field, the exhibition "Magiciens de la Terre" in Paris, which aimed at showing works from both western and non-western artists. Acknowledging this state of affairs, this exhibition focuses on issues through the lenses of the global order while keeping in mind the local context.
If the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was an event with a world-wide impact, as it prompted the dissolution of the Cold War, also significant was its construction fifty years ago. The Berlin Wall was a separation barrier with guard towers placed along large concrete fences that completely cut off West Berlin from East Berlin and the surrounding East Germany. In this sense, the Berlin Wall replicated the architecture of other walls, and was one of many that have been and still are installed in several different parts of the world. Today, apart from famous walls currently under construction such as that of Jerusalem or the US-Mexican frontier, lesser known walls include cities and countries such has Baghdad; Belfast; Ceuta; Melilla; Sharmel-Sheikh; Botswana/Zimbabwe; China/North Korea; Cyprus/Northern Cyprus; Egypt/Gaza Strip; Malaysia/Thailand; India/Pakistan; Iran/Pakistan; North Korea/South Korea; Pakistan-Afghanistan; Russia/Chechnya; Uzbekistan/Afghanistan. As before, these walls separate populations and aim at limiting the movement of people across both lines of the divide.
This exhibition examines the proliferation of separation barriers in the post-Cold War political landscape as a sign of dissent, a circumstance that contradicts the expectations of a new era without zones of conflict, making 1961 rather than 1989 the defining year of present times. From disputed territories to pacification processes and from anti-illegal immigration policies to counter-terrorist strategies, many are the reasons evoked by states to erect walls. However, what are the repercussions for the everyday lives of people in a divided society? And what are the short- or long-term cultural consequences of such actions? The works brought together in this exhibition shed light on these questions. The waning of sovereignty and the emergence of transnational powers or border crossing and diasporic identities appear as appropriate subject matter. Topics addressing facts include representations of the Berlin Wall and references to the Israel/Palestine question, as well as the debate on multicultural communities and allusions to surveillance. The selected works thus call attention to the social injustices that more and more frequently characterize land use in uneven geographies.
Miguel Amado is currently curator at Tate St Ives, St Ives, UK. He has worked in different curatorial capacities at Fundação PLMJ, the Centro de Artes Visuais, Rhizome at the New Museum, Abrons Arts Center, and the International Studio & Curatorial Program. He has guest-curated exhibitions and projects at organizations including Museu Colecção Berardo, the Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Frieze Projects, and No Soul for Sale – A Festival of Independents. He is a regular contributor to Artforum and since 2011 has been a board member of IKT.
This exhibition is supported in part by the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York.