See also raphaelperret.ch/2015/08/1125/
Julia Bruderer was so kind to invite me for a collaboration on an exhibition at the gallery space of “Stiftung Kunstsammlung Albert und Melanie Rüegg“. The show was meant to be a farewell from the foundation’s location at Dufourstrasse in the Seefeld. Because the city of Zurich was making progress on its plans to construct rent controlled apartment buildings on the spot, in order to foster a mix of people in the highly gentrified neighbourhood.
Given this precondition, I wanted to carry the idea of integration forward, which lead us further out to the fringes of our society and city. Namely to refugees living Zurich. It needs to be mentioned, that our planning and reasoning happened before refugees were omnipresent in the media. Among the many other conflicts, for too long there had been a humanitarian disaster in Syria and nobody seemed to notice or be bothered by it here. Thus came the urge to poke holes into our seemingly perfect reality.
While studying the art work of Melanie and Albert Rüegg, I learned about their boat travels to north and south america. Which were then inspiration for impressionistic paintings of sights such as the copa cabana in pastel red for example. Nowadays boat travels aren’t so popular anymore, though a lot of refugees are coming to Europe by sea. Following that lead, we wanted to find out more about their impressionistic moments here.
At the same time we wanted to learn more about their situation and challenge our perception of the living environment. We may have the idea to ‘know’ our city. Yet, it proved to be true that, as soon as we engaged with refugees, living actually very close by, we found out quickly about the manifold dimensions and perspectives onto living here.
We made a series of interviews with refugees from different countries with varying statuses. Our questions circled around the personal background story, the escape, the situation here and an outlook into the future. Among those questions, we asked about a place of significance in Zurich. Subsequently, we visited that place, where our interviewees explained about its special meaning for them. In a next step, Julia painted and interpreted the vista our respondents had while elaborating about the location.
The exhibition received a fair amount of attention, as the stream of refugees didn’t stop and the media got interested in the topic. At the same time, the gallery became a platform for a panel discussion, a refugee choir, a refugee theatre as well as a concert hall for the Syrian oud player Bahur Ghazi. I had a feeling of achievement at the opening, when I saw people queueing up in order to listen to the stories of our interviewees, which were contrasting the superficial discussion in the media at the time. And at a second instance, when a visitor, who had just been listening to the recount of torture in prison, spotted the narrator among the crowd.
How we treat refugees and strangers is an old and ongoing topic. I believe that, however we deal with the situation, we actively shape our common future. The chances we give others to pursue a life with the same qualities as ours will reflect back sooner than probably expected. I don’t mean this to be an easy process, but more than ever important to be receptive and dedicated.
All paintings by Julia Bruderer