Joanna Rajkowska, SORRY
Sculpture dedicated to refugees who were unable to cross the border currently installed in Frankfurt (Oder), Germany, until October
On June 29, 2023, the monumental sculpture “Sorry” by the internationally renowned Polish artist Joanna Rajkowska was inaugurated on Frankfurt’s Oder Promenade. It is seen as an opportunity for social dialogue and reflection on European values.
wall of contention
Rajkowska calls her work “counter-monument”. The wall that has been erected on the Polish-Belarusian border since 2021 was the starting point for her work. There, Polish border guards systematically use illegal pushbacks to prevent people from Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria from applying for asylum. According to the Polish initiative Grupa Granica, 38 people have died since then as a result of cold, exhaustion or injuries sustained when crossing the border. “This is not a work of art about German-Polish relations, but about the core of the European community,” says Rajkowska. The new location of “Sorry” on the banks of the Oder is also significant, as the river is again threatened with fish death when temperatures rise in summer.
With the arrival of Prigozhin’s Wagner mercenaries, who had been financed by the Russian state for years, in the Republic of Belarus, the Polish-Belarusian border became the focus of Polish domestic politics. Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński has already pointed out the increasing danger of provocations. With this justification, he could theoretically declare a state of emergency along the Wall in eastern counties to prevent the parliamentary elections scheduled for October from being held. It is already clear that Kaczyński will make migration a key issue in his election campaign. With “Sorry”, Joanna Rajkowska has found a universal answer to counter these political tricks to stay in power with a clearly understandable “No”.
“Sorry”, didn’t mean it that way
There is a wall again on the Oderpromenade in Frankfurt. “Sorry” by Joanna Rajkowska is an irritating and therefore successful work of art.
“‘Sorry’ is not a friendly work of art,” says Joanna Rajkowska in an interview. “It has a different energy than my other public space projects. It has bad karma because desperation is visible in it.”
Shame became art
When refugees had to endure months in the forests of the Belarusian border region in 2021 and the EU did nothing, Rajkowska was ashamed and made art out of it, says Krüger. The EU keeps saying “sorry” half-heartedly, while at the same time emphasizing humanitarian values at every opportunity. The double standard, which is difficult to bear, is now stuck like an ironic thorn in the 25-ton sculpture.
According to the concept, the work of art also conveys religious themes, such as solidarity, spiritual credibility, guilt or remorse – basic human issues. Anyone who comes by here will be addressed directly. And stimulated to ask: What are we doing? And what should we do?
Artwork “Sorry” erected at the Frankfurt city bridge
There is now a wall at the Stadtbrücke in Frankfurt (Oder): The artwork “Sorry” made of concrete slabs and broken glass by the Polish Joanna Rajkowska wants to address the handling of refugees at the EU’s external borders.
“The bridge unites, but the wall separates”
“It was important to us that we put a wall next to the bridge with this sculpture to show that not every border is as easy to cross as our beautiful Frankfurt-Słubice city bridge. It connects, but the wall separates,” said René Pachmann, Catholic university chaplain in Frankfurt. Together with the cultural coordinator of Viadrina University, he had the idea of bringing the concrete and steel work of art to the Oderstadt.
The sculpture is intended to irritate
“Border controls are increasingly being carried out in the immediate vicinity,” Pachmann observed. Above all, people with dark skin would be waved out. A spokeswoman for the federal police explained on request that “an intensified internal border search” was being carried out on a random basis, for example in order to identify transporters suspected of being organized by smugglers, on whose loading areas unsecured people were being carried. Then she calls back again to make it clear: “Racial profiling is illegal and is not practiced by us.” The complaints procedure is open to everyone.
And you’re already in the middle of the topic. Federal police officers would “become part of the work of art,” says Pachmann. It encourages “a debate about the inconsistency of our behavior”. About whether maybe everyone is part of the problem – and thus maybe also part of the solution. “The sculpture is intended to irritate – tear us out of our comfort zone,” says Krüger. The aim is not to admonish others with a raised index finger, but to encourage them to become active themselves.
Provocation and impetus for social debate – Viadrina and Ecumenical Europe Center open exhibition of the sculpture “Sorry”
The events on the Polish-Belarusian border in 2021 and the raising of the EU’s external border, under the influence of which the monumental installation was created, show that there is more at stake today: “We must work to ensure that Europe does not lose its soul. This is exactly what the exhibition of the installation fulfills at this symbolic place, the German-Polish border, where the fate of people is decided on a daily basis. “For me, the work of art calls for us to reflect on our European values and act responsibly. This is necessary if Europe is to continue to exist,” Schürer- Behrmann continued.
Co-initiator Constance Krüger also invited to the social debate: “‘Sorry’ provoked. Through its aesthetic form, its brutal solidity of concrete and pointed glass; it is not pleasing, but stands in our way as a wall, in short, ‘Sorry’ is an impertinence”. Only from a distance, from a bird’s eye view, does a different impression appear and the curved lettering of the word Sorry becomes visible. “The work of art requires a change of point of view, a change of perspective if we want to understand and grasp it,” Krüger continues. In this sense, “Sorry” is an invitation to urban society to come together and discuss. “We hope that this invitation will be accepted and outweigh the provocation.”
“SORRY” In Frankfurt (Oder)
René Pachmann reflects on inner contradictions and the church in the world in view of the art installation “Sorry” on the Polish-German border. A crucial issue is the bad culture of superficial and mendacious pseudo-apologies.
The reason for the production of the sculpture was to fend off refugees from the Middle East at the Polish-Belarusian border, who had been camping for months under inhumane conditions in the forests in front of the EU’s external border and are still camping. The European double standard is still very clear to everyone who wanted to see it: human rights, the rule of law, a community of values and also the Christian heritage are officially upheld – but “unfortunately” those who ask for help at the gates of Europe are not allowed to participate.
Because as a work of art, “SORRY” wants to shake things up, but it’s not about a clear political message – otherwise it would be propaganda – rather many connections should be addressed: spiritual questions about shame and forgiveness play a role as well as migration policy discourses around the EU – External borders, but also ecological issues such as human responsibility for the river – after the gigantic fish kill last year and in view of the many unresolved German-Polish issues, this is still an open wound in the region.
More generally: the sculpture SORRY poses the question of the seriousness of our expressions of remorse, our promises of repentance, our vows to change. Ultimately, the question of what we actually mean when we say “sorry”.Because, as the artist explicitly points out, “sorry” in English is sometimes only used to really apologize, but also to ward off claims and keep unpleasant things at bay with a phrase.The seriousness of the statement must be proven in actions. In line with the biblical request: “We do not want to love with word and tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1Joh 3:18)
SORRY is a concrete wall topped with shards of glass, as in well-guarded border areas. The labyrinth-like sculpture forms an insurmountable physical barrier. Only from the perspective of a bird’s-eye-view, it becomes evident that the wall is arranged in the form of the word “SORRY”.
SORRY was first unveiled in Poznań, Poland, on 29 June 2022. The project was commissioned by the Wielkopolska Society for the Encouragement of Fine Arts in cooperation with the VOX Artis Foundation and Estrada Poznańska.
The installation of SORRY in Frankfurt (Oder) was commissioned by Ecumenical Europe Centre, Frankfurt (Oder) e.V. in cooperation with the cultural coordination of the European University Viadrina. The project was managed by Constance Krüger (cultural coordination) and René Pachmann (Catholic University chaplain)
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