"My Pen Won't Break, But Borders Will"

curated by Julia Hartmann

Borjana Ventzislavova, Migration Standards, 2011
  • This information will be updated.

Parwana Amiri—a teenage girl from Afghanistan—arrived on the Greek island of Lesvos in 2019, in hopes of a safer and happier life. What she encountered in the seemingly safe haven of Europe was an overcrowded and underfunded refugee camp that has been neglected by powerful nations of the European Union…

Disillusioned but empowered nonetheless, Parwana took a pen and started writing about her experiences in Moria. In a series of letters and photographs, she documented the horrible conditions in a camp designed to deter people from reaching a place of refuge. They are written from her own and other refugees’ perspectives, as she is just one of many people who are seeking a place of peace, equality, happiness, safety, education, and freedom. What they enter is the European Union—a communion that was founded on the fundamental ideas and values of solidarity—, what they encounter instead is “Fortress Europe,” which proves that nationality trumps unity and solidarity in a time of crisis.

Inspired by Parwana’s journey from Afghanistan to Greece and her text “My Pen Won’t Break, But Borders Will,” the exhibition will tell exceptional stories of refuge, pursuit of happiness, and solidarity. In collaboration with artists, cultural workers, community leaders, politicians, social workers, etc., we want to investigate how one can enshrine solidarity beyond closed borders in the future. What other exceptional stories are out there that can inspire and empower us? What kinds of communities, networks, and movements have been galvanized into action, especially as the Covid crisis unabashedly showed us that borders can as easily be rebuilt as destroyed? And what will happen to those lives that are suddenly uprooted due to purely nationalistic decision making?

The exhibition will thus include artworks that present seekers, like the first artist's film about Mohammed, who is deaf but vividly tells his escape from ISIS, or the second artist's photograph series about young asylum seekers’ hopes and aspirations. It will include performances/installations by artists that tackle their personal stories of crossing the EU border and the hardships of receiving visas. Others challenge the dichotomies between solidarity and nationalism, several artist groups who document the journeys through the Mediterranean Sea and tackle smart border technologies. Another group of artists finally explore contemporary borders and migration from critical race and gender standpoints.

In honor of Parwana’s unbreakable spirit and perseverance, I am again submitting this exhibition proposal to apexart, as I am convinced that it is more vital than ever to tell these stories, to raise our voices, to listen and to galvanize action. The exhibition ultimately proves that a simple pen, brush, or click can break all kinds of borders.

*The text above was submitted to apexart's 2022-23 NYC Open Call, and rated by over 600 jurors. Any specific artists mentioned are unconfirmed and subject to change.
Julia Hartmann (Vienna, Austria) is an art historian, writer, and independent curator who specializes in the intersection of social movements, digitization, and feminism.

apexart’s program supporters past and present include the National Endowment for the Arts, Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, the Kettering Family Foundation, the Buhl Foundation, The Martin and Rebecca Eisenberg Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Spencer Brownstone, the Kenneth A. Cowin Foundation, Epstein Teicher Philanthropies, The Greenwich Collection Ltd., William Talbott Hillman Foundation/Affirmation Arts Fund, the Fifth Floor Foundation, the Consulate General of Israel in New York, The Puffin Foundation, the Trust for Mutual Understanding, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, and public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, public funds from Creative Engagement, supported by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Governor and administered by LMCC, funds from NYSCA Electronic Media/Film in Partnership with Wave Farm: Media Arts Assistance Fund, with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, as well as the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Kathy Hochul and the New York State Legislature.