Friday, 7 April 2017


Konig, by Anonymous. Berlin, 2017.

The arthur+martha international outreach project Heaven-Proof House is a collaboration with refugees in Berlin, devised by Phil. The project is based at an asylum seekers' centre, where residents have kindly granted interviews, made poems and artworks. The artwork above, like most artworks for this project, is by a child who is resident at the centre. 


The artwork for my project in Berlin has been made in a narrow corridor which is the entrance way to the Berlin refugee hostel in Spandau, where I'm based. Every week, I put out my stall, which is a rickety wooden table and two or three chairs. On the table are placed pens, pencils, ink and a heap of paper. 

Within a few minutes I have usually been joined by seven or eight kids who launched themselves at the art materials with formidable energy. Technically, they are children, but their life experience has taken them far beyond the worldliness of many adults. They have come out of the war zones of the world. 

This is a quiet afternoon. Most of the kids have gone on a trip. But M, one regular member of the art gang, has been left behind so she sits down and lords it over the table. She splashes some ink around and experiments with a geometry compass. As she works, we talk. I have rudimentary German, which she mocks gleefully. "Dumkopf!" She also has a tiny amount of Arabic, she names a few of the creatures she's drawing in amusing combinations of the two languages. 

Although she's full of jokiness, M has a dark cloud hanging around her, like a familiar. If anyone crosses her for any reason, real or imagined, she summons a ferocious glare. And follows it with a stream of abuse. She can be disruptive to an impressive degree, or delightful. But it is only ever her who decides which.

Today after 20 minutes or so, just as she is running out of energy, two new arrivals join us. They are new to the art group and new to the hostel as well. They look very tiny and very frightened, like shy animals. They are intrigued by the paper and the pens and by the possibility that they also could play. They are a brother and sister, perhaps four or five years old. I hope M won't be too vigorous with them.

The girl very quietly and uncertainly begins to draw. Her little brother stares at the white page. M jumps in with ruthless enthusiasm, she points to the picture and gives it a thumbs up. "Ja! Das ist gut!" And then hoots with manic laughter. The two new arrivals don't know what to make of her, but sense she is friendly. M makes an "accidental" ink spillage to amuse them, smirking as I mop it away. The little boy tentatively reaches out towards the paper and draws a single line. M larks about a bit more, stamping up and down the corridor and making fun of the security guard. 

The boy looks at his paper awhile and adds another line. As I watch him slowly constructing this drawing, I realise that his hands are shaking. The drawing grows, the progress somehow fuelled by M's antics. Her boldness gives the two new kids a bit of shared bravery. The little boy with shaking hands is slowly becoming lost in his artwork, a picture of a king. Perhaps this is the first drawing he has made since his arrival here, since reaching safety. His expression is faraway, distracted. His sister smiles at him. 

M nods with satisfaction, as if she knew this would happen all along. 

Heaven-Proof House is funded by Arts Council England and the British Council. Advice and support has been given by the Kunstasyl arts organisation.

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