Ami Vitale. Ripple Effect, 2009. Photographer @amivitale

Mint Museum Uptown | February 24, 2021 ⁠– July 25, 2021

This exhibition examines the historic use and artistic treatment of walls over the centuries—whether they are made of stone, steel, sand or wire. The exhibition brings together 67 makers from around the world with 132 images, the earliest from 1897 and the most recent from July 2019. There also is a 26-minute documentary film by award-winning director Jeremiah Zagar that accompanies the exhibition. The space is divided into six sections—Delineation, Defense, Deterrent, The Divine, Decoration, and The Invisible—with each section anchored by a central photo essay. This photography exhibition was made possible by Wallis Annenberg and the Annenberg Space for Photography, Los Angeles, California.

Carol Guzy. Albanian refugee camp, March 3, 1999. © 1999, Carol Guzy/The Washington Post

About The Exhibition

W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine explores the various aspects of walls—artistic, social, political, and historical, as well as how there are literal walls or barriers, such as fences or sand berms. From antiquity to today, walls have been central to human history. Societies have built walls to delineate their borders, but the resulting structures define the civilizations on both sides. From east to west, north to south, walls have fortified cities, transformed ink lines on maps into stone, protected communities, and separated families.

On Nov. 9, 2019, the world celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. Most can easily call up images from that exhilarating evening in 1989: young Germans in T-shirts and jeans destroying the concrete dividers with sledgehammers, armed soldiers looking on with stoic reserve, people rushing through holes and rubble to embrace their counterparts on the other side. The world saw the joy of people uniting, and as the end of the 20th century approached, the toppled wall felt like the dawn of a new age of reason. 

As the violence of World War II receded into history, it appeared that so, too, was the ancient, simple brutality of dividing people with walls. And yet, the numbers offer a different narrative. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 15 border walls around the world, in May 2018, there were nearly 80, according to Elisabeth Vallet, a geography professor at University of Quebec-Montreal. Over one-third of the world’s nation states now define their borders with a barrier.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, there were 15 border walls around the world. In May 2018, there were nearly 80. 

SHAN Wallace. The Makeover of Progress, 2019.

 

Walls aren’t limited to a particular culture, region or era. The exhibition includes images that span six continents from photographers of all stripes: commercial photographers, documentarians, photojournalists, artists, protestors, explorers, and in one case, a Tibetan Buddhist monk. 

The exhibition, which runs from February 24 to July 25, 2021 in the Level 4 gallery space at Mint Museum Uptown, explores various aspects of “walls,” whether they are made of stone, steel, sand or wire. The space is divided into six sections—Delineation, Defense, Deterrent, The Divine, Decoration, and The Invisible—with each section anchored by a central photo essay. Two of those essays were commissioned for the exhibition by the Annenberg Space for Photography. Magnum photographer Moises Saman documented the Peace Walls in Northern Ireland, while SHAN Wallace photographed Detroit’s Eight-Mile Wall, a painted-over wall that was originally built to segregate a black community from an adjacent white community.  

We constantly contend with walls, whether they are solid, porous, real or imaginary. This photography exhibition invites you to reflect on the omnipresence of walls and to consider your own. Where do the barriers start in your life? And do you need them to live the life you want?

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