New Photo Exhibit At The Annenberg Space for Photography Explores A Sensitive Topic: Walls

East Germans pour through the Berlin Wall in 1989 as a West Berliner cheers them on from atop. (Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)

President Trump has made it clear time and time again that he wants to build a wall. That interest has informed a new exhibit at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Century City, which explores walls in all forms: both physical and figurative.

The show, called "W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine," includes the work of some 70 artists who photographed barriers all over the world — from prisons to refugee camps to fences along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Jen Sudul Edwards curated "W|ALLS," after she was recruited by Annenberg Space for Photography director Katie Hollander.

"We're about to celebrate the [anniversary of] the Berlin Wall coming down," Edwards said. "Katie was really interested in that tension between celebrating this moment when we're saying walls are not useful, they're damaging to society, they're damaging to a psyche. But then, this international urging for more walls to be going up."

While the show is called "W|ALLS," Edwards said it's really about featuring barriers of all kinds and how those barriers interact with humans.

Take for example the below Pulitzer Prize-winning photo by Carol Guzy, which shows a Kosovar refugee being handed through a barbed wire fence.

(Carol Guzy/The Washington Post)

Title: Albanian refugee camp, March 3, 1999
Location: Kukes Albania

Caption from ASP: In 1998, after a decade of increasing tension in Kosovo, violence by Serbian and Yugoslav forces against ethnic Albanians led to a wave of refugees fleeing the country. Sometimes separated families found each other; Carol Guzy captured such a moment at a United Arab Emirates-run camp in Kukes, Albania. Guzy recalled, "It's actually a joyful photo. Families that had escaped ethnic cleansing did not know if their loved ones had survived or not; [they] were lined up along that fence." The Shala family from Prizren, Kosovo, found each other at the fence and passed 2-year-old Agaim Shala through the barbed wire barrier so he could visit with his relatives.

Originally trained as a nurse, Carol Guzy has become known for unflinching but intensely empathetic photographs that capture scenes of conflict and destruction. She is the only person to win four Pulitzer Prizes for journalism, including the one awarded for this photograph.

"That was something I always had in mind: How do you capture the human condition in the photograph and so often that includes having humans," Edwards said.

According to Edwards, the urgency to get the exhibition ready ramped up over the past two years, especially during the government shutdown that resulted from President Trump's fight to secure border wall funding.

"It also made me more anxious to make sure that the show was as powerful, but also as thoughtfully provocative as possible," Edwards said.

She added: "I really did want to make sure that we had a balance of all continents, of as many time periods as possible, of as many motivations as possible so that people would take a moment to think about: Why do we do this? The anxiety to build these walls has been going on for as long as there's been human civilization. But to what end?"

You can listen to an extended interview with "W|ALLS" curator Jen Sudul Edwards on KPCC's The Frame.

"W|ALLS: Defend, Divide, and the Divine" will be on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography, located at 2000 Avenue of the Stars, through Dec. 29, 2019.

If you can't make it over, below is a preview of some of the photos on display:

Photographer: Tony de los Reyes
Title: Paranoid Architecture, 1 - 8, 2018
Location: U.S.-Mexico Border
Credit: Tony de los Reyes

Caption from ASP: Tony de los Reyes has been making work about the U.S.-Mexico border for the last twenty years. In 2017, for his series Paranoid Architecture, de los Reyes photographed the eight "wall system" prototypes commissioned by President Donald Trump through the Customs and Border Patrol's Office of Facilities and Asset Management.

Four barriers were to be made entirely of reinforced concrete; the rest were instructed to have "see-through capability." The prototypes were to be judged by five categories: "breaching, scaling, constructability, engineering design, and aesthetics." None of the prototypes considered previous environmental concerns regarding disruption to species migration patterns, which include ocelots, pronghorn antelope, and other migrating animals along the southwest border.

In writing about his series, de los Reyes observes,

"The inclusion of the term "aesthetic" in the five-category design directive implied something more than efficient engineering and construction. It signaled a politically motivated, visual presence mandated through state, and particularly presidential, power. My photographs of the eight 30 by 30 foot structures, visible only to the general public on the Mexican side of the border, were digitally-manipulated to better render their painfully utopian aesthetic. Central to the Paranoid Architecture prints is the notion of modernism gone wrong, of an ideal, visual language devolving into a nationalistic statement."
Photographer: Linda Foard Roberts
Title: Segregated Balcony, from Lament, a song of sorrow for those not heard
Date: May 13, 2016
Location: North Carolina
Credit: Linda Foard Roberts

Caption from ASP: Segregated Balcony records the divisions common in churches in the south during the period of slavery and later segregation, where the parishioners of the church would sit in the lower pews and the enslaved people would sit segregated in the balconies observing the sermons for their owners.

The Lament series comments on the racial barriers of not only the southern region, but the United States as a whole. "The photographs in this series, Lament, a song of sorrow for those not heard, are an elegy," Roberts writes, "a quiet offering and a tribute honoring those who suffered under the tragic hand of slavery. This project was born out of my need to acknowledge the grievous history of the South, where I was born and continue to live. This is a personal journey to face the injustices of slavery that still casts a shadow on our culture. Although I can never take away the enormity of the injustices that were laid upon people of color during this period, this work lay bare my feelings for the harrowing violations of human rights, and the shame indentured upon these innocent people."
Photographer: Linda Foard Roberts
Title: Divided in Death, from Lament, a song of sorrow for those not heard
Date: May 13, 2016
Location: North Carolina
Credit: Linda Foard Roberts

Caption from ASP: Linda Foard Roberts' deeply personal work is rooted in memory, family, and local histories, combined with philosophical inquiries about life, death, and basic human rights. Using 8" x 10" and 5" x 7" cameras with antique lenses contemporary to the historic events in the places she photographs, her work is metaphorical and layered, intending to cross language and cultural barriers.

In her series Lament, Roberts uses a Darlot brass barrel lens likely made circa Civil War era to photograph sites of the Carolinas that speak to the division and struggles of enslaved people in that region. Roberts says of this work, "It is through this lens looking back in time, that somehow, we can begin to see ourselves and be reminded that we are all woven into this social fabric of time, history, and life." For Divided in Death, Roberts photographed a graveyard bisected by a wall, dividing the enslaved buried on the left from the parishioners of the church buried on the right.

The Lament series supports the efforts of the Slave Dwelling Project, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to developing resources to preserving African American Slave Dwellings.
Photographer: Ami Vitale
Title: Indian Camel Contingent, 2004
Location: border of India and Pakistan
Credit: Ami Vitale

Caption from ASP: For almost a century, Indian Border Security Force officers on camelback have patrolled the disputed border with Pakistan. In the 1990s, India began to construct the Indian Line of Control fence; when it was completed in late 2004, it covered 340 miles of the 450-mile border. Officers continue their patrol behind the barrier.
Photographer: Raymond Thompson, Jr.
Title: Teen boys playing basketball at the Youth Study Center juvenile detention facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, 2004
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Credit: Raymond Thompson, Jr.
Photographer: Gaël Turine
Title: From the series The Wall and the Fear, 2014
Location: Bangladesh
Credit: Gaël Turine/MAPS

Caption from ASP: Bangladesh and India share the fifth-longest border in the world and since 1993, India has fortified this border with walls, barbed wire, and military force. However, migrant workers and illegal trade still pass across the border daily, even though severe punishment and death occur constantly—both for Bangladeshi illegally crossing and for Indians harboring the migrants.
Photographer: Ami Vitale
Title: Ripple Effect, 2009
Location: Baoli in Amer, Jaipur, India
Credit: Ami Vitale

Caption from ASP: Two women meet at a stepwell near India's Rajisthan Thar desert. Water conservation is essential to survival in this arid region and sometime around 250 AD, stepwells were created to capture water during the intense rainfalls and hold it during the dry seasons. Although the structure is 1,000 years old, visitors can still climb down the 200 steps lining the retaining wall to the pool below.

Photographer Ami Vitale travels the world to document stories of poverty, health, and security—and most recently, the effects of climate change. One consistent subject throughout her work is the role of women in society. Vitale observed, "Women are the center of a village and if you empower that one woman she is going to change that entire society."

Ripple Effect is the title both of this image and a public awareness campaign Vitale spearheaded to address these issues of uplifting societies by uplifting the women. The phrase finds a perfect metaphor in this image: two women in a serrated setting, enclosed and elevated by the architecture surrounding them, the well and the women, both providing life and sustenance for their people.
Photographer: Gina Clyne; Artist Tanya Aguiñiga
Title: AMBOS Project, 2016 - 2019
Location: various cities along the border of the United States and Mexico
Credit: Photos by Gina Clyne. Courtesy of Tanya Aguiñiga and AMBOS Project

Caption from ASP: This series of photographs and film documents AMBOS Project, a series of artistic interventions developed by the Los Angeles artist Tanya Aguiñiga. AMBOS—Art Made Between Opposite Sides (in Spanish, the acronym means both of them)—seeks to explore the relationship between residents of the border with the border and their corresponding population on the other side. Although born in the United States, Aguiñiga grew up commuting daily between the two countries, living with her family in Tijuana and going to school in San Diego. AMBOS develops from this intrinsic understanding of the relationship between people and place and the porous nature of borders.

A textile artist by training and trade, Aguiñiga includes this practices in her work with the border communities. All interactions begin with participants completing a questionnaire and a quipu, a woven, Andean Pre-Columbian organizational system that used knots to record or transmit messages. In one intervention displayed in the top row here, Aguiñiga and a friend create a variation on backstrap weaving, a technique that creates tension in the warp threads by using the body of the weaver with a stationary anchor like a bedpost. Instead, the AMBOS intervention has the two women serve as the loom structure and they pass the shuttle back and forth to weave the textile. This act of passing an object through the fence is prohibited and this, with the act of creating through contact, elegantly mirrors the tethered dependency of the border towns. At the Amistad Reservoir, pictured in the lower register, Val Verde County, United States, and the state of Coahuila, Mexico meet. At this site AMBOS team members use tension, strength, and stamina to support and sustain a partner. These site-specific performances elucidate the unique nature of these locations and the humanity that fills the border communities.
(Marina Abramović. Courtesy of the Marina Abramović Archives.)
Photographer: Raffaele Miraglia
Title: Itchan Kala
Location: Khiva, Uzbekistan
Credit: Raffaele Miraglia

Caption from ASP: Like many ancient and medieval walls, those that protect Itchan Kala ("inner fortress"), the town in the center of Khiva, have been rebuilt. Originally constructed in the 10th century, the towering barriers protected the last oasis on the Silk Trade route before travelers entered the Karakum desert. Visitors could trade, pray, and rest within the safety of the walls. The Mongols devastated the city in 1226; while the city rebuilt, it was destroyed again in the 18th century by Nader Shah of Iran. While the foundations may be original, the new walls were rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries and are now protected as a World Heritage Site.