Florian, a municipal employee who walks past the Church of the Holy Cross in the Kreuzberg district almost every day, is no longer surprised. He has become accustomed to seeing in the dome of this imposing reddish brick construction in Gothic style that figure that, despite being almost 60 meters high, can be perfectly appreciated from below. A boy in a life jacket clings to the cross with one hand while holding a flare in the other. “It’s like asking us for help. It has reminded me of the images from the news programs of entire families fleeing war or hunger ”, he reflects before saying goodbye on the way home. For a few weeks now, the latest work by urban artist Pejac has appealed to the consciences of Berliners and tourists from the Berlin sky.
Twice a day, the torch is lit and gives even more presence to this ephemeral sculpture that, for many residents, is already part of the landscape of this multicultural and welcoming neighborhood of the German capital. In a few days, maybe weeks because the date is not yet defined, the operators will raise the dome again to disassemble it. If it were for the congregation’s pastor, Marita Lessny, she would stay up there forever, “to remind us every day of the many refugees who risk their lives at sea,” she says sitting with a coffee in the central nave, while supervising the placement of Christmas decorations.
Pejac’s installation, titled Landless Stranded (Stranded without land) suggests to the audience that they reflect on what the refugee situation causes them. In fact, the artist explains by telephone from Madrid, the sculpture wants to symbolize something else: “From the point of departure of the migrants, I have wanted to extend it to all the people who have not just found their place in society.” He says that when he was walking with his team in Berlin to decide what kind of work he wanted to do in the city, he was impressed by the Kreuzberg church and what was going to be “something more conventional”, like a mural, became a very project. more ambitious and with “high sights, (pun intended)”.
The sculpture also served as an aperitif for Pejac’s latest exhibition, Apnea, which could be seen from October 30 to November 7 at the Napoleon Komplex, a former train factory converted into an event and showroom. The artist exhibited alone 45 of his latest works, those produced in the last two and a half years, including large-format paintings, drawings and installations. The self-produced exhibition was to be held in New York last year, but the pandemic changed the artist’s plans, who decided to postpone it and stay in Europe.
During the confinement, Pejac, an enigmatic artist who hides his real name and other biographical information, launched an initiative on social networks called Stay Art Home in which he invited to recreate his drawings on the windows of the houses of the participants. The challenge went viral and a thousand people from 50 countries joined. In September of last year, the also graffiti artist painted three murals in the Valdecilla hospital, in his hometown, Santander, as a way of thanking the health workers. Pejac’s work, always vindictive, has also been seen in prisons such as El Dueso, in Cantabria, where inmates helped him finish three murals.
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Apnea It is the largest of his exhibitions, after others organized in London, Venice and Paris, but he has painted murals on the streets of half the world, from Tokyo to Moscow and New York. Trained in Fine Arts in different countries, Pejac says “he feels a very fast connection” with the cities he visits and feels the need to give them something back. In Berlin, he has recreated one of the works he drew on a concrete wall in the Valdecilla hospital, a huge crack that, seen up close, is formed by a multitude of human silhouettes trying to escape from it, a transcript of the wound that has left the pandemic.
In the installation of the sculpture of the refugee boy, he also felt the connection with the passers-by who stopped in the street to contemplate the work and comment on it. “The surprise effect is one of the things I like the most about urban art,” says Pejac. In many cases it caused stupor; in some, restlessness. Lessny explains with amusement that the first few days some neighbors called the police and the fire brigade because they believed that someone had climbed on the dome of the church. Also participating in the project is Sea Watch, a German NGO created in late 2014 by a handful of activists who decided to help prevent further tragedies in the Mediterranean. The organization currently has two ships and two planes to patrol the most conflictive routes and rescue boats in trouble.
“We talk about refugees in all services, whether in the Mediterranean or on the Polish border. But it is important to have this reminder, this wake-up call ”, says the pastor about the sculpture. In the parish they have experienced the drama of migration first hand. In 2014, when the then conservative government in Berlin dismantled a makeshift migrant camp that had been formed at Oranienplatz in Kreuzberg, the parish decided to shelter them. It welcomed 132 people, most of them Africans, who slept for days in the central nave of the church until other accommodations were found for them. Then they helped them learn German, looked for company placements or training courses until most of them were able to fend for themselves. He still greets many of them every month at the gatherings they organize in the backyard.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.