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  • Walls Between Us

    While I was studying in Europe, a little over a year ago, I got the pleasure of seeing the work of Lia Sáile. I travelled to Vienna to see her art in public space – the temporary installation called ‘Largest Common Divider’ located in three different spots of the city. They represented three major dividers around the world (the USA/Mexico barrier, the Belfast Peace Line and the Israel/West Bank wall), abstracted from their actual context to stimulate dialogue and thought. Presented in white, these walls became a blank canvas open to interpretation. It sparked a bit of introspection into my own reality living at either side of the walls.

    Not long after that I moved to Asia and lived for a year in a place where walls were a sign of exclusivity and privacy, where you weren’t allowed to enter if you didn’t seem like you could afford it. Anybody else trying to enter was quickly removed by the countless of guards with guns in the premises, after being deemed dangerous for not having the money to live there.

    I’ve now returned to El Salvador and the walls here mean something different. They are not necessarily an indication of wealth. They are a sign of fear and distrust. Having lived abroad for two years, I hadn’t fully grasped the intangible walls of El Salvador until now. That sense of insecurity is back in my life, now more heightened than ever. Not only because of the murder statistics with which we are bombarded every day through the media, but the paranoia and fear that freezes people or forces them to act irrationally. I see the same in the news in Europe and the United States about terrorism. They succeeded. The gangs succeeded in terrorising a whole country.

    A New Reality

    The gangs did not appear out of nothing. They are the result of a terrible civil war. A few months before I left to study abroad, I overheard two relatively old ladies talking about the time before the civil war in El Salvador. They were remembering the children playing outside and knowing all of your neighbours like they were part of your family. Barriers and walls were shorter, merely decorative, and easily crossed to greet your friends. Then the war began, hitting the remote areas first and eventually reaching the capital. The guerrilla and the armed forces entered the city and with that they invaded homes, taking hostages and murdering people at either side of the war. People began building fences higher and stronger, or enforcing their existing ones. It was no longer a decorative element, but protection from anything in the outside world that could hurt them, war related or otherwise.

    A lot of people fled to the United States, regardless of their economic capacity. Many homes were left behind, abandoned. Today the beautifully crafted fences and walls show the mark of war. Steel and brick grew taller, losing its aesthetic appeal and hiding away the architecture of the homes it swears to protect.

    The war ended but it brought more insecurity and crime than ever before. The targets are no longer just those who speak up against injustice and corruption, but hardworking, innocent people who are at the wrong place at the wrong time. The fight for equality that ignited the war is far from over, and the remnants of it remind us that it is the population who lost.

    It is now over 20 years since the peace treaties were signed, yet the boundaries created by the war between home and community still remain. The trust in our neighbours has been long lost. Our largest common divider is not the tangible one. Nowadays, to live without these fences feels more like a romantic idea.

    More on Lia Sáile:
    More on the Largest Common Divider:
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