Throughout history barriers have been built for many different reasons – homes, buildings, land, etc. No matter the reason, with the building of barriers brought the notion of property and ownership. With this, walls have been used to divide and enclose, restricting the movement of people, items, and resources. It is from these actions that there have been a great deal of conflicts in history, many of which being about land and state. We can look at examples from history where walls were built for such reasons: the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, the Israel/Palestine wall, and the US / Mexico border wall. These structures have enclosed and divided people, in often very violent ways. However, with the building of these walls has also come the ability to voice outrage, build solidarity, and raise awareness of the situation by painting and creating art directly on them.
Perhaps the best first example of this artistic expression of resistance that was widely practiced and well documented was the Berlin Wall. During the 14ft high concrete wall’s existence, the Western side was an always changing outdoor gallery of local and international artists, who came to paint on it. Themes of liberty, freedom, justice, and dignity were seen.
A more recent example of a dividing wall that has also become one of the largest concrete canvases in the world is the Israel/Palestine wall. The Palestinian side of the wall has been adorned with tags, graffiti, murals, and large street art productions for years. There are many books, articles, and websites dedicated to the artistic creations on this wall, however, this video offers a unique walk-by viewing of the wall from the Aïda Camp to the Chekpoint 300 in Bethlehem (Palestine)!
During the Egyptian social movement of 2011 (as well as other movements of the Arab Spring) graffiti and street art exploded in cities. In Cairo specifically, large concrete walls were erected in certain areas of the city in attempts to control the movement of people through their own neighborhoods. The art that emerged ranged from anti Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak images, to clenched fists, to smiling children and peaceful scenes of hope. The works also ranged from very serious images to humorous ones which still held powerful meanings. The artistic creations of this movement were some of the best captured and shared in recent years, showing the power that art and action in public spaces have during moments of change.
Finally, we turn our attention to a separation wall that we here in California feel the affects of daily – the US/Mexico border wall. The border wall has been built in an attempt to control immigration and has in doing so created severe spaces and moments of violence for people and families on both sides. Stand where you will on your personal thoughts on immigration, employment and land ownership, this wall is built with the same ideals as the others – separation and control. We applaud and fully support the incredible work of local Oakland artist, teacher, activist and public speaker, Favianna Rodriguez, on her pursuit to bring attention to the social injustices happening in the wake of the border wall’s construction. Be sure to watch all three of her Immigration is Beautiful videos for more information on the history of the border wall, her and others amazing artistic activist work, and ways to become involved yourself!
Barriers and walls are almost always used as a physical tactic in attempts of control and power. Though these walls are in our public spaces and are always present, visible displays of separation, they alway provide a unique way for many to voice their frustrations and feelings through artistic acts. People have moved across this planet for tens of thousands of years, but it is only in recent times that these physical barriers have been built. We hope that there will never be a wall that can truly hold back human will and spirit, for in all these examples people have and continue to move around them. We hope that one day such separation walls will be no more. Until then we will continue to support, see, share, and use our human creativity in artistic acts to address social injustices caused by these barriers.