Artist statement by Kai Wiedenhöfer
The US border wall - the power and impotence of a world power
Empires build walls to secure their might. In 1989 I photographed the fall of the Berlin wall in my hometown, which became the very symbol for the downfall of the USSR as a superpower. It was the most positive event I witnessed in my life. I was extremely moved - it was experienced history which sensitized me deeply for this topic. Then I believed that this would be the end of walls as a political instrument and put them on the garbage heap of history as an anachronistic tool. Twenty years later I have been proven wrong. On the contrary, walls have made a big renaissance. Border barriers went up again in the Middle East, Europe and the US to control political, economic and ethnic conflicts. I have photographed seven of them since 2003.
The American border wall is the expression of a world power and its waning sovereignty over its own territory. It is a wall between the ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’ The US government is currently barricading its Southern border against the immigration of Mexicans and drug trafficking. This influx is basically the result of implementing the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) which pushed millions of Mexican farmers into severe poverty by flooding Mexico with US agricultural products. Awkwardly this treaty was forced upon the Mexican government by its mighty neighbor in the pursuit of short-term economic interests. It also satisfied America´s appetite for cheap labor and illicit drugs.
But the US wall also became a symbol for the force of people like the ordinary immigrant who by crossing the border can challenge a super power. The wall depicts a futile almost silly attempt to fight the developments of globalization which promised us a dissolution of borders. What is reality like? The trappings of globalization in this case are deceptive: It enlarges markets for the US but spreads insecurity in Mexico. While capital moves freely, people do not. Many have not participated in the benefits of economic globalization, and the gap between rich and poor is deepening. So the poor try to get their share.
The photographs should reveal that, worldwide, we are producing a powder keg and that the erection of barriers is no way to prevent the fall-out from its storms. While we may admire charity, we are not ready to share our wealth. An economically more just world is thus a must.
I want to stress with my work that building walls has never solved problems. They were mostly only indicators for the demise of powers.
War Photo Limited is proud to be part of the Derry-Londonderry City of Culture 2013 program, with the support of the Culture Programme of the European Union