As Canada resettles 25,000 people fleeing the conflict in Syria, the integration process and visibility of these refugees is primarily limited to television and the Internet. Throughout Europe, the conditions are vastly different, as more than a million migrants and refugees have crossed into its borders in the past year.
In Berlin, German artist Jens Ullrich has witnessed the transformation of public parks as they filled with tents and mattresses, and the streets lined with people waiting for social services. At an agency where arriving immigrants must register, he has observed thousands waiting outside the building for their number to be called, some for more than 30 days. In an effort to respectfully capture the disparate emotions of these individuals and their precarious situations, Ullrich’s series, Refugees In A State Apartment, places portraits of refugees within the historical setting of a lavish villa. Owned by an industrialist when these found black-and-white images were taken (around 1929), the home near Bremen has since undergone a series of transformations, including years as a hospital and a rehabilitation clinic, and is now offered for sale. Ullrich notes that “the metaphoric ambiguity of a house between being a refuge, a place to live, an intimate situation, or even a cultural monument somehow seems apposite [to the situation of the refugees]. In this house, arrival is both very close and far away.” In each photomontage, singular individuals are depicted—usually with their faces hidden from the camera—within empty yet elaborately fashioned spaces that emphasize their solitude and unstable status. Emblematically displayed along a fence bordering the Consulate General of Italy—itself once a stately home that has undergone transformations similar to the German villa—Ullrich’s series speaks to issues of access and acceptance in the wake of profound social upheaval.
Presented in partnership with the Goethe-Institut Toronto, in cooperation with the Istituto Italiano di Cultura and the Consulate General of Italy, Toronto