Refugees or Immigrants? Migrant Art at the Ben Uri Gallery

The Ben Uri Gallery have just opened two new exhibitions looking at the contribution of German migrant artists to Britain.

Frankfurther

Credit: Eva Frankfurther Estate

The Ben Uri Gallery may not be on your radar if you’re used to trekking around the likes of the National or the TATE. Naturally, these iconic institutions with their hundreds of masterpieces have their place, but sometimes visiting a smaller, more niche, and often more thought-provoking gallery is worthwhile.

Housed in North London, the Ben Uri Gallery is dedicated to art and migration; a small but perfectly formed gallery with regularly changing exhibitions addressing questions of movement and visual arts. Their latest exhibition, ‘Refugees: The Lives of Others’ looks at the various ways German refugees have contributed to Britain’s 20th century art scene. Of course, these artists did not merely choose to come here for our tea and our incredible weather – the majority of the artists came here because of the Nazi situation in Germany: anti-Semitic laws in 1933 meant many Jewish artists were forbidden to practice, and so they fled abroad in order to continue to do what they loved.

frank 2

Ben Uri’s newest exhibition is particularly relevant today, given our current refugee crisis: I attended the opening night of the gallery’s German-centred feature and it is stunning. The ground floor is dedicated to a young lady called Eva Frankfurther, who escaped to London with her Jewish family in 1939. After studying at St. Martin’s School of Art, Eva found that she wasn’t all that excited about the London art scene, and she moved to Whitechapel to work in Lyon’s sugar factory. The East End in the 50’s was a hub of various migrant communities: these West Indian, Cypriot and Pakistani people were the inspiration for Frankfurther’s artwork, which she completed during the day after her night shifts at the factory.

Often dark in colour, Eva Frankfurther’s sketches and paintings depict people at work or rest, going about their daily lives in the smog of the city and interacting with friends, families and fellow refugees.

Frank auerbach

Frank Auerbach. Credit: Ben Uri Collection

Downstairs in the basement gallery, a whole host of diverse German artists are on display. There are the more well-known names such as Lucien Freud and Frank Auerbach, as well as sculptors, sketchers and painters you’ve probably never heard of. It’s not just the varied works that is inspiring though; the artists’ stories are as  important here as the art on show. Many of the artists were interned, so a lot of the paintings are those which were completed in a camp.

Tomalin

Rough and unpolished sculpture by Margarete Klopflesich contrasts with the abstract, graphic style of Elisabeth Tomalin’s ‘Head’; Frank Auerbach’s textural images are even more exciting alongside Hans Scheleger’s lithographic prints for London Transport. What brings all these incredible artists and works together is their shared identity as German refugees in our country, a place of safety away from the horrors of Hitler, and one where they could continue to thrive with their artistic talent.

We did it once, and we can do it again. Let’s hope that Britain supports, embraces and nurtures the art of all the diverse people who are coming to call our home theirs.

 

 

 

Is London really ‘All That’? Or can we learn something from the Germans?

cologne river

London’s My Lobster went on a bit of a trip recently. This trip was to the far away land of Germany, specifically to the awesome city that is Cologne. Living in London, we (mostly) all think that this is THE city to be in – London has it all, doesn’t it? When people gawp at the fact we have chosen to live in one of the world’s most expensive cities, one overwhelmed by tourists, high rents and delayed trains, we brush off their ignorance. Sometimes, it takes a visit to a completely different place, in this case, Cologne, to look at London in a new light. I think we could learn a thing or two from our German counterparts….

 

Cologne vs London

 

Train prices:

London: 40 min train ride from London Liverpool Street to Stanstead airport: £22 (return)

Cologne: Half-hour train ride from Cologne city centre to Bonn/Koln airport: €2.80 (one way)

 

Beer/Bar Etiquette

London: queue for approx. 30 mins at the bar, elbowing punters en route, to pay a fiver for a mediocre pint.

Cologne: in the Brauhaus, people come to your table with beer, and simply tally on your beer mat how much you’ve drunk (at a rate of about €1.70 for (an admittedly small) 0.2l Kolsch right out of the brewery)

 

Live Jazz

London: approx. £10 entry to Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club

Cologne: free jazz every night at Papa Joe’s Jazz-Lokal, with all drinks being a couple of euros more expensive than other places in order to cover costs

 

Supermarket Booze

London: £7-8 for a bottle of fizz

Cologne: €5 for a pretty decent bottle of Prosecco

 

Student Love

London: about 10% discount for those of us slaving away at uni, and paying £9,000 a year tuition fees.

Cologne: consistently discounted entry prices at all museums, galleries etc. (some at nearly 50% off regular adult price). Oh, and university here is FREE people!

 

Perhaps London could take a leaf out of Cologne’s book. Of course, I’m in no way advocating that we Londoners immediately start sporting Lederhosen or having sausages on the menu at near every restaurant (note: this is not being stereotypical, these things actually happen in Cologne), but maybe if transport was cheaper, pubs were more chilled, people were more trustworthy and education was free we wouldn’t get that look of shock, horror and disbelief from non-Londoners when we say we live in London. Instead, they would say ‘well aren’t you lucky, living in a place with such good principles and ideas. One might say, slightly German?’ I wait with bated breath…

 

P.S. further comparison in the area of stairs: if you think that Covent Garden station is a bit hard work with their 193 stairs, try the Cologne cathedral – 533 steps up a narrow spiral staircase (not pretty when you meet a school trip coming down when you are attempting the epic journey upwards). TFL, do not take on this idea for future tube stations.