Wednesday, September 07, 2016

People like you and me

The remaining section of the Berlin Wall that's along the banks of the Spree river is well known for its graffiti and the more reflective street art which was commissioned for it in 2009, writes Brian Byrne. It attracts crowds of tourists all year round, musing on the history of division which the Wall maintained a quarter of a century ago. As well as being a memorial to an imprisoned people, it's also today a monument to freedom eventually achieved.

But there's a much more modern tragedy displayed on the river side of the Wall at the moment, chillingly depicting today's catastrophe in Syria. It's an exhibition of photographs from that distressed area, of devastation, destruction, and human-inflicted disaster on fellow humans.

The landscape pictures are easily understood. We've seen them nightly on our TV news. Too regularly, so we don't even notice them any more. But in the very large sizes on this exhibition, they once more have impact.

The portraits in between them are studio-type face to camera pictures of individuals. Children, adults, men, women. All ages. All classes. All civilians whose homes were once solid in the adjoining Hiroshimaic apocalypses. Each with their story tabulated in German and English in simple, succinct and stark words of horror. At first glance, the pictures seem normal portraits. Then you notice the injuries, the wounds, the amputations. The external splints holding mangled bones together while they heal. The prosthetic limbs where healing wasn't an option.

The display was set up in the middle of summer and runs until the end of September. It is powerful, pitiful, and anger-producing. These are not the people in power on the various sides of the conflict in which they are the victims. They are the ordinary people, like you and me except that they have the misfortune to live in what has become the latest hell on earth.

This is an apt place to mount this exhibition, to remind those of us who look at the breaking down of a wall in historical terms that we are still building them. Physically in Palestine, potentially in Mexico and soon in Calais. Figuratively in trying to keep people in the hells that we continue to create.

I don't know about you, but I felt pretty guilty for my happy and secure place in life as I walked alongside these photographs, of a people hemmed in by a wall of terror, created by powerful entities of politics, religion and business, warring with those who want to take the powers for themselves.

In the middle are ordinary people, like you and me, except they are there and we are here.