This week’s guest writer is Adrienne Wiebe of Edmonton, Alberta. Adrienne is Provincial Thrift Shop Coordinator and Edmonton Liaison for MCC Alberta. She recently completed a three-year assignment as policy analyst with MCC in Mexico.
Walls became an obsession for Edmonton artist Rhonda Harder Epp after she visited the site of the former Berlin Wall in 2010. She painted a series of “meditations on the idea of separation, arbitrariness, and emotional distress — our experience of being separated from our people, our land or our deepest desires.”
Here are some thoughts that come to me when contemplating four of Rhonda’s paintings.
Belfast: Do walls create peace? — The “peace lines” were built beginning in 1969 in Northern Ireland cities with the purpose of minimizing inter-communal violence between Catholics (mostly nationalists who self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (mostly unionists who self-identify as British). Is peace built through preventing interaction between people with differences of opinion? Probably in the short-term. But what about the long-term? How do we build trust, understanding, and community if we cannot communicate with each other?
Mexico/US: Fences Separating Families — Probably the longest wall/fence in the world is not an effort to separate people of different religions or political agendas. Rather, it is an attempt to separate rich and poor; to stop the flow of undocumented migrants from Central America and Mexico looking for work in the United States that will enable them to feed, shelter, and educate their families. Mexicans working in the US send $23 billion to their families back home every year. Central Americans send $13 billion to their families each year. For many of my Guatemalan and Mexican friends, loving their families means working to pay for their kids’ basic needs but not seeing them grow up because a wall separates them from their children.
Israel/Palestine: The Green Line – “The 1949 boundary between Israel and the West Bank was drawn on a map with green ink. Cyril Radcliffe, a British official, thus created the first ‘green line,’ which also became the internationally accepted border,” according to Harder Epp. “What is neat and clean on a map is messy and heart-rending for families and communities.” Today the “green line” is in many places a concrete wall that separates people from homes, olive groves, and places of worship. Yet, the fourth in a series of ‘Green Line’ paintings offers a bit of hope – some ladders over the fence. The bird in the painting reminds me of the famous Leonard Cohen lyric: “Like a bird on a wire, like a drunk in a midnight choir…I have tried, in my way, to be free.” People continue to yearn to be free in a world with walls that separate, control and attempt to shape us.
The Wailing Wall in Jerusalem – Last year I stood with dozens of women covered in shawls at this wall – a wall that separates but also calls people to prayer. Like the women around me, I stuck a small piece of paper with my prayer into a crack in the wall. A prayer for peace in the part of the world that seems to be in a constant cycle of violence, destruction, and pain. It seemed cliche to pray for peace, particularly given all we had witnessed in our learning tour in Israel/Palestine. And yet I could not think of any other more specific prayer to leave at this sacred wall. So my little piece of paper is there, with thousands of others, praying for peace and the deconstruction of the walls that divide and separate us as children of God.
“Walls,” an exhibition of paintings by Rhonda Harder Epp, will be held at King’s University in Edmonton January 21-March 11. The exhibition is jointly hosted by King’s University and MCC Alberta. The opening reception takes place on Wednesday, January 21 at 7:30 pm in the Atrium.