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1961 and the Berlin wall goes up!

It is the 60th anniversary of the building of the Berlin wall: a moment when the whole of European politics changed and the threat of mutually assured destruction became a serous possibility. A failed political experiment that resulted in huge suffering and the death of at least 140 people desperate to leave.

The montage is a flashback to an exhibition I held in November 2019 in the Arnolfini Research studio showing new paintings based on my memories of Berlin during the late 60’s when, as a child, I would spend summers visiting my German grandparents .

We would have to pass through a series of checkpoints run by the occupying troops, the first to enter East Germany, the second to enter Berlin. The Russian checkpoints were always the most difficult to pass, setting up the backdrop to weeks of contrasts: blissfulness in an environment of enforced isolation and division, with days spent negotiating the impact of both a divided Germany and the omnipresent effect of the Berlin Wall.

Although the embrace of family and community was strong, these visits were permeated by much that was left unsaid, stories told in a foreign language with much that I didn't want to know, places where access was only recently denied.

While listening to radio free berlin, I preferred an imagined reality, a reality based on incomplete memories, and partial truth, achieving a form of reconciliation only by leaving.

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