You shall not pass- crossing borders at the Biennale

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

Immigration and boundaries are two of the most recurring themes explored in different pavilions of the Venice Biennale 2015. In recent years, Italy, like many other countries in Europe, has felt the pressure of an increasing number of immigrants arriving from the most disadvantaged zones of Africa and Middle East. Many families look to Europe to escape from the war dangers of their countries. Nevertheless, European governments not always allow immigrants to find a place without passing the uncountable number of checkpoints and borders, seen probably by immigrants as an insurmountable barrier. Moreover, after having negotiated and crossed these borders,  what kind of life will there be on the other side? In the EM15 pavilion, the artist Yara El-Sherbini offers an important visual contribution to debates about political division. Her work, Putting a Hole in the Wall, shows the practical difficulty to pass the physical and political barriers limiting people movement worldwide.

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

In (mini golf ) player-mode, that expects the navigation of the ball through the boundaries and walls, visitors are experiencing directly the difficulty in crossing through the controls and walls of the area. This experience invites them to reflect on the worldwide movement of displaced people and the troubles affecting thousands of incoming refugees in their actual passage across thresholds and borders. Boundaries and borders have long existed, in fact at least since Late Antiquity, in order to determine and control the extension and limitation of occupied territories, but nowadays Europe is far away from the concept of Roman hospitality and incoming migrants  often suffer   conditions far removed from their human rights.
In the German pavilion at the Giardini, the  question of immigration  is examined through a focus on testimonials from immigrants.

© Laura di Stefano, 2015
© Laura di Stefano, 2015

Hundreds of newspaper articles surround the first floor, giving the word to the, often-unheard, refugees. Interesting stories are emerging from this captivating exhibition. I particularly liked the article of Bino Byansi Byakuleka, who  escaped from Uganda and took  refuge  in Germany. Bino says that “ We are all refugees on this planet, we are foreigners on this earth […] this humanitarian aid is nothing for me if I don’t have my rights to move where I want to move, to go where I want to go, to sleep where I want to sleep”. He pointed out mainly the bad conditions affecting refugees in Germany:

imageconfined in specified territories and isolated from the rest of society. These refugees’ condition are common to all European states, especially in Italy where immigrants arrive daily in Lampedusa hoping for a better tomorrow. Italians are no better than Germans, looking at the refugees with suspicion, striking on the streets to send them away. However, I would like to ask these people, who really do not know what war is, why they claim rights and hospitality everywhere in the world (i.e. sending their sons to study in France, England, Germany or aiming to find jobs in the States) if they are the first to deny this right to other people? We are  all part of the same big bad world and places like the Biennale of Venice remind us that we have all the right to pass our boundaries.

Laura di Stefano

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