In a world becoming increasingly interlinked through various communications technologies, it is easy for individuals to feel as though the world they live in is a boundless place ready to be explored, quite literally at the click of a button. In reality, we are all governed by sets of restrictions, physical, metaphorical, or political, constantly employed to control our movement and contain our acts. One such restriction is the wall, a physical structure turned symbolical by its capacity to suggest and impose enclosure and division.

A man looks out toward the U.S. from the Mexican side of the border fence that divides the two countries in San Diego on August 20, 2014. Photo source: Getty Images.

A man looks out toward the U.S. from the Mexican side of the border fence that divides the two countries in San Diego on August 20, 2014. Photo source: Getty Images.

Humans build walls everywhere, to separate, and mark ownership or difference: they form rooms in our homes, they mark territories, serving to distinguish the personal from the public. By function, walls are objects of division: the Berlin Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Israeli West Bank barrier – all built to divide the land, and most clearly, the people. Protection is the immediate function of a wall, but how often does the very erection of a wall symbolically create the danger it promises to keep away? Walls produce a way of thinking about the world, which is embedded within our minds and cultural memory. Years after the Berlin Wall has been torn down, a visible distinction between the city’s East and West remains clear; the Israeli West Bank barrier created a new border, disrupting the geography and history of the area, and affecting the very identity of a people. The impact walls and man-made borders have on the topography of a place is undeniably paralleled by the effect on its inhabitants, their self-awareness, and their view on life.

Migrants climbing over the border fence between Morocco and Melilla. Photo source: AFP.

Migrants climbing over the border fence between Morocco and Melilla. Photo source: AFP.

The rhetoric of walls, fences, and borders has been particularly in vogue over the last year. In 2016, the world witnessed Donald Trump vowing to erect a concrete border between Mexico and the USA. Similarly, one of the main arguments for Brexit, within a larger European shift towards separatism, was the enhancement of border control in order to keep out migrants. These trends enhance a divide of the “us vs. them” type, rooted in a growing global fear of terrorism and of various dangerous others.

Immigrant rights activists protest outside the Trump Tower, 2016. Photo by Daniel Forero.

Immigrant rights activists protest outside the Trump Tower, 2016. Photo by Daniel Forero.

What exists beyond a wall depends on which side of it we find ourselves. For those who build it, it offers a sense of security; for those on “the other side,” it offers confusion and a threat to their identity. What has been enclosed becomes an object of desire and curiosity, leading to a most basic human impulse: to want to see what lies beyond the wall. We increasingly become creatures of satisfied desires; the screens to the digital world are barriers we cross every day, reserving, still, the need of privacy, protection, and discretion our devices, as frontiers to the endless cyberspace, should be able to provide.

A father and son peer through the international boundary into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico. Photo by Todd Bigelow.

A father and son peer through the international boundary into the United States from Tijuana, Mexico. Photo by Todd Bigelow.

The imagery of the wall evokes the endless dualisms of our realities. Walls are symbols of order and disorder, and to accurately understand their function, it is necessary to ask why they were built to begin with. Walls create an inside, as they mark the border with the outside; they are erected with the authority of excluding, in the name of laws, histories, and cultures, and with the power to attach value to the inside it constructs. The essential question is: to what degree are we in control of how our "inside" is being sculpted, and how can we regain control, when it is taken away?

Words: Arietta Chandris

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu