Walls Between People: Eight modern walls

The International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in Geneva is showing a temporary exhibition entitled Walls Between People from 24 September 2008 to 25 January 2009. Based upon the book “Walls between People” by Alexandra Novosseloff and Frank Neisse, the displays are presented in a unique way providing photographs and testimonials whilst physically experiencing the presence of the walls.
Geographical mobility redefines new territories, but far from suppressing political barriers, it creates new barriers that are harder to define. Surveillance cameras and radar make surveillance and repression invisible. Nineteen years after the fall of the Berlin wall, mankind constantly invents new frontiers.
The wall is first perceived as an insurmountable obstacle. Over time, ways to get round it are devised. The call of the other, the dream of another world and of somewhere else better often override the dangers of crossing the rampart.
Walls Between People
A panel on display at the exhibition quotes Irish dramatist, poet and author Oscar Wilde (1854-1900). From The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888), it gives an extract from The Selfish Giant …“What are you doing here?” he cried in a very gruff voice, and the children ran away. “My own garden is my own garden”, said the Giant; “anyone can understand that, and I will allow nobody to play in it but myself”. So he built a high wall all round it, and put up a notice-board
In the short term, a wall fulfils the functions of protection and safeguarding. But alone it cannot guarantee effective protection. It must itself be guarded. In fact, it protects less than it separates. Beyond security and protection, the objective is separation from one’s neighbours.
Another panel at the exhibition gives a quote from Quand les murs tombent, Edouard Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau, ?ditions Galaade, Paris, 2007, pp.7-8. “The temptation of a wall is nothing new. Every time that a culture or a civilisation does not manage to consider the other, to consider itself as with the other, to consider the other within itself, these rigid barriers of stone, iron, barbed wire, electrified fences or closed ideologies are built, demolished and then return to us with new acuteness.”
Eight modern walls
Beyond the threats to which they bear witness, walls symbolise the duration of conflicts. They separate countries and people. They are erected as enclosures intended to protect from external attacks, to defend threatened identities. The walls entrenching our planet today are higher and more present than ever before.
Throughout history, human beings have built fortifications to protect themselves from “barbarians”. Coldly designed on the basis of military maps, the eight modern walls illustrate a specific geopolitical divide. The exhibition presents the following:
The Demilitarised Zone between the Two Koreas
The Green Line in Cyprus
Peace Lines in Northern Ireland
Berm in Western Sahara
Fence built between the United States and Mexico
Barbed wire Fences of Melilla and of Ceuta
The electrified Fence in Kashmir
The Fence between Israelis and Palestinians
Photographic images by Robert Ireland supported by historical charts and explanatory notes, arranged between dividing walls, help the visitor to physically experience the presence of the walls in this temporary exhibition entitled Walls Between People.
Ita Marguet, January 2009
Note: Acknowledgement is given to all sources used in preparation of this text. It is drawn from exhibition material and brochure Des murs entre des hommes, International Museum of the Red Cross and Red Crescent, Geneva.