URBAN NATION X Nils Westergard: The UNforgotten – Edition 1
URBAN NATION set the first milestone in this still young year 2019 last week with a new One Wall by Belgian-American artist Nils Westergard at Bülowstrasse 94, curated by director Yasha Young, which is far more than a new large-format mural. This special wall stands for all themes that need to be heard and follows the principle of a constant collaboration of different artists. Under the title “The UNforgotten,” it now takes a look back at a dark chapter in German history.
The wall of the building at Bülowstrasse 94 follows a very special central idea, because it is a memorial wall for the victims of the Nazi regime who were persecuted, abducted, imprisoned and murdered because of their homosexuality. This memorial wall in the LGBTQI-influenced neighborhood in Berlin-Schöneberg will transform itself again and again in the course of time and be a symbol of hope for the neighborhood. Here, various international artists will leave their mark in the spirit of the guiding principle “The UNforgotten” and will tell a new, terrible story of this time again and again. All the power of art – or “Artivism” – is used here to take up historically relevant themes and a zeitgeist and thus create collective memories.
The initial artwork was created by Mademoiselle Maurice, who decorated this memorial wall for the first time in summer 2017 in her very own style, but following the guiding idea. With over 200 metal origami birds forming a triangle in its centre, she laid the foundation stone and the heart of this memorial wall. During the National Socialist era, the pink triangle, or “Der Rosa Winkel” was used to identify homosexual prisoners in concentration camps who had to wear these patches on the left chest of their concentration camp prison clothing.
The new addition to this core piece has now been implemented by Nils Westergard, who defied the grey and unpleasant January weather of Berlin and not only gave this memorial at Bülowstrasse a new face with his latest work, but also tells another terrible story of this time. Nils Westergard is known for his impressive portraits. In his works he takes up the themes of intimacy, ego, power and fragility. The collaboration between Director Young and Westergard on this memorial wall was therefore only the logical consequence. Together they developed a concept and, thanks to the help of the great and very important project “Faces of Auschwitz”, discovered a story that truly gives goose bumps.
The person portrayed by Nils Westergard as a freehand work shows the Auschwitz prisoner Walter Degen in his concentration camp prisoner uniform, with his prisoner number 20285 and the pink triangle (“Der Rosa Winkel”) on his left chest. Walter Degen was a locksmith and was deported at the age of 32 for his homosexuality and as a German political prisoner. He was registered in the Auschwitz concentration camp on August 29, 1941. During the Nazi era, homosexual acts between men were considered a crime under §175 of the Criminal Code, a “threat to the morals and purity of the German race”. The convicts became “antisocial parasites”. The marking with the pink angle made them the most abused group in the concentration camps. In May 1942 Walter Degen was transferred to the Mauthausen concentration camp. It is not known whether he survived.
Nils Westergard has now captured this moving story in an impressive way. The gaze, or rather the eye, of the Walter Degen portrait captures its viewers from every perspective. The depicted gate of the Auschwitz concentration camp, which Westergard added to his composition, is equally strong and full of emotion. We invite everyone to take a moment and see this memorial wall with their own eyes. It is located at Bülowstrasse 94, Berlin-Schöneberg.
HERE you’ll find more information about Faces of Auschwitz.
MORE about Walter Degen.
photos by Nika Kramer