HEIMAt – Two Worlds
The exhibition HEIMAt – Two Worlds marks the 70th anniversary of the arrival in 1949 of a large group of Germans who travelled to Iceland aboard the Esja and other vessels that followed.
The Germans came to Iceland in response to a labour shortage in rural Iceland arising from sweeping social change after World War II, when Icelanders migrated en masse to urban centres. Advertisements were published in Germany, offering work on Icelandic farms, and over 300 people made the journey to Iceland. About half of them, mostly women, settled permanently in Iceland, and today they have many descendants.
The focus of the exhibition is Marzena Skubatz‘s photographic project HEIMAt, which provides insight into the lives of some of the German immigrant women who are alive today. She takes the observer on a lyrical journey which highlights their stories and memories. Life is explored in its happy and its sadder aspects, providing insight into the world of individuals who had to uproot themselves and make a life in a new and unfamiliar place.
In order to illuminate further the “two worlds” referred to in the title, Iceland and Germany, the exhibition includes, in addition to the HEIMAt series, historical photographs on the subject:
Powerful photographs are shown from the photo archive of the Icelandic Red Cross, in the keeping of the Reykjavík Museum of Photography. These document the devastation of German cities and towns by wartime bombing; a representative sent to Germany by the Icelandic Red Cross after the war brought back photographs which were shown at public photo evenings in Iceland.
Ólafur K. Magnússon, a pioneer of photojournalism in Iceland, was present on the dock in Reykjavík on 8 June 1949 to document the arrival of the Esja carrying the first large group of immigrants to Iceland in the 20th century. The five news photographs, from the photo archive of daily Morgunblaðið, show the group on their arrival in Iceland. These historic pictures also serve as a link between the “two worlds” via the sea passage from Lübeck in Germany to Reykjavík.
“Home is not a geographical concept, but something within oneself,” said Russian writer and dissident Andrei Sinyavsky (1925-97), and that quotation is apt for this exhibition. Apart from serving as a memorial to the German immigrants and their life, HEIMAt – Two Worlds reminds us that every single day people have been, and are, leaving one country for another due to armed conflict, oppression or other dismal conditions. Migration is thus not temporary, but an ongoing phenomenon which must be examined from a broad historical perspective. In that process, images and memories play a central part; and if they are not to be forgotten they must be shown – again and again – in order to maintain knowledge of the past and fix it in present consciousness, as time goes on.
The exhibition was made in collaboration with the German Embassy in Reykjavík.