Public Positions teamed up with three artists to bring the stories of refugee teens to our city. Poster Stories is a sensitive, humanizing exhibition on display just for one weekend.
Inside Salon am Moritzplatz, there are faces affixed to every wall: smirking, twitching, frowning, repeat. Faces that express puzzlement, playfulness. Self-conscious faces, camera faces. Faces that show ease, some that show discomfort. Foreign faces that you don’t always see in Germany, dark-skinned faces. Young faces that have still seen more than just Germany, that have seen more than most Germans will ever see.
This is Poster Stories, the new exhibition depicting a group of twenty teenage boys housed in an asylum centre outside of the city. Artists Timm Hartmann, Florian Seidel and Nora Heinisch have teamped up with Public Positions, an organisation which ‘combines graphic design with social conscience’. It’s the second series for the same cause, after a previous project Serie A which gave young refugee boys the chance to design and sell football gear.
Heinisch’s fascinating portraiture is what brings this project to life. The animated gifs show a totally unfamiliar face with totally familiar expressions. It’s teasing yet mysterious, because you expected stillness: you feel the excitement of the spectators at the first ever moving picture, or Harry Potter reading his first magical magazine.
She always seeks humanity, humanity, humanity in her portraits, and gently brings out the relationship between viewer and subject. This bucks a post-modern trend of obtuse and introspective portraiture that’s all about the lens. But that’s what social art is and the spirit of this exhibition, too. Heinisch wanted to show that those teenage boys, who smirk, fidget and frown at the camera, are just like any others.
Portrait of the young man as an artist
The original plan was to listen to the long and winding tales that tore these youths from their homelands and led them to asylum centres in Germany. But what came out was the mundanities – favourite colours, favourite sports, etc. – and that turned out to be equally touching.
That’s why on every poster they’ve written an uncompromising claim, ‘Same Likes, Same Rights’. At the heart of the campaign is the input of the boys themselves (it’s not a misery-fetishising peep show), with their own personality, interests and individual foibles writ large in every work and in their own handwriting, too.
Boys (un)like any other
Officially, this exhibition is about universal experience, but of course that’s not at all true. How can they be ‘just like us’ when they’re shacked up in asylum, bouncing back and forth between authorities, their young minds still reeling from diaspora and isolation?
No: ‘Same Likes, Same Rights’ says it all. They’re not the same as us, but they have a right to be. Poster Stories is a wonderful and creative way of reminding Berliners of the reality outside of the city walls, and a perfect example of how art and activism can (and should) work in tandem to raise social awareness.
Poster Stories is at Salon am Moritzplatz this weekend and this weekend only! Come and join me to see the final project. Posters are all for sale.
By Jem Bosatta, with thanks to Nora Heinisch.
Student small fry, country boy in the big city, with inky fingers and a travel guitar.