I Never Said Goodbye | Women in Exile by Heike Steinweg is the latest photo exhibition in the Museum Europaischer Kulture (Museum of European Culture) in Berlin.
The museum, which is located in the suburban outskirts of Berlin, strives to showcase art that depicts the world of Europe and European Culture
The room that hosts the photos has a simple layout of white walls and a black ceiling. The large images take over the length of the room and hang with no frames or frills. The narrative of the exhibition tells the individual stories of women who had to leave their home country to escape war and terror. These women eventually found themselves resettling in Berlin. The narrative is done by placing quotes taken from interviews by the women beside their images.
The girls and women in the pictures are of all ages, race and culture. Some are business women, mothers, authors and journalists, but this isn’t revealed to us initially. We are introduced to each woman on a first name basis, which constructs a personal connection between the viewer and the women in the images.
Every woman is facing the camera, all with their heads held high, except for one. The image blends in with the rest, but once you notice her you wonder how you didn’t see her straight away. She is facing away from the camera and her dark clothes match the curly hair tumbling down her back. We as an audience can only guess what she looks like. Beside the image is the text, “I want to talk about my feelings, my feelings are universal and anyone can understand them. It does not depend on my face, not on my nationality, not on my religion and not on my skin colour.”
Sitting yourself down on the seats provided in the middle of the room gives you the chance to absorb the images. The photographer has cleverly positioned the seating like this, as it creates the illusion that the women are staring directly at you.
In that moment it feels like we, as the viewers are being confronted by the women as they tell us their stories and if you look away, you catch the eye of another woman. The photos open up an opportunity to rethink how we view refugees and migrants and does this by using the emotional intensity of looking into someone’s eyes.
The inspiration for the project came from Heike Steinweg’s friend who arrived to Germany as a refugee. Steinweg decided to take on the project after her friend showed her a picture that was taken of her while she was travelling to Germany. In the photo she is smiling, this took Steinweg by surprise as she had only ever seen refugees as victims. In that moment she decided she wanted to portray refugees differently to what the news images showed.
The themes of the exhibition vary. Some women make political statements; “In a world where the terror of Assad and ISSIS is accepted, we should be all be ashamed”.
Others wish for freedom to express their sexuality, stories of hopes and wishes are told, and many question what is meant by the word ‘home’. “Home is not a feeling it’s a place.” Some quotes stand out more than others, particularly those that echo their stolen dreams- “I wanted my daughter to grow up differently.”
I Never Said Goodbye| Women in Exile is truly a touching and intimate piece that strips away any stereotypes we hold of refuges and instead gives them an opportunity to speak their unheard words.
The exhibition runs from the 9th April until the 15th July. Entry price is €8 or €4 for a student.