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Speeches & Texts

Floodwall Exhibit Opening

Berlin, September 10, 2010
Ambassador Philip D. Murphy

Herzlich willkommen zur Eröffnung der Floodwall-Ausstellung.

Jana Napoli, thank you for bringing Floodwall to Berlin.

Mark Donfried and everybody at the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, thank you for working with Jana and with my colleagues at the Embassy to make this very powerful exhibit possible.

Stephanie, a special word of thanks to you as well.  You brought this exhibit to our attention at the Embassy and explained many times over how an exhibit of old, broken, empty drawers could communicate the sense of loss that survivors felt in the wake of catastrophe.   You were right. 

This collection of empty drawers does indeed speak to the disruption of everyday lives after the flood came.   How can one possibly imagine the destruction of a city or an island or an entire river valley?  

Die Ausstellung wurde vor fast vier Jahren in New York City eröffnet – an der Liberty Bridge des World Financial Center, mit Blick auf Ground Zero.  Der 11. September und Katrina waren zwei sehr unterschiedliche Katastrophen, aber letztendlich sind beide kraftvolle Symbole für Verlust.  Die Floodwall-Ausstellung erinnert uns an die Intimität, die der Tragödie innewohnt, ebenso wie an die grundlegende Verantwortung, die wir alle füreinander tragen.  

[The exhibit premiered almost four years ago in New York City at the World Financial Center’s Liberty Bridge overlooking Ground Zero.  Two very different kinds of disaster – 9/11 and Katrina – but at the end of the day, both are powerful symbols for loss.  Floodwall reminds us of both the intimacy involved in tragedy and of the fundamental responsibility that we all have to one another.]  

Floodwall is a powerful metaphor for what happened in New Orleans almost exactly five years ago. In those five years, New Orleans could have remained a symbol of destruction.  Instead this city has become a symbol of resilience and of community

Floodwall is also a powerful metaphor for Germany – a country that knows floods and the destruction that they can bring.   Germany has also become a country that is known for its humanitarian policies, for reaching out to those in distress in the wake of disaster and catastrophe.  It has opened its doors to many who too have had to leave behind drawers full of memories and belongings and re-build their lives with new memories and new markers of community.  That story of integration and welcome is not yet over.  Germany continues to be enriched by these new arrivals.

Floodwall is also a powerful metaphor for the world.   Pakistan’s tragedy is still unfolding.  The reconstruction of Haiti is still in its early stages. Katrina happened five years ago in the USA, and we’re still not fully recovered.   Imagine how long it will take Pakistan and Haiti. We all have to commit to helping them rebuild over the long term. 

The events that are planned to take place around Floodwall speak to all of these metaphors.   I am particularly impressed by the programs that have been arranged with and for young people.

The lessons on courage and perseverance that victims of catastrophes experience are part of an education in humanity that cannot be measured in tests or diplomas. Those lessons in both our capacity for good and in the imperfections of human beings; in our ability to rise to great challenges and our tendency to sometimes fall short of our obligations to one another are invaluable.  Some will take an entire lifetime to experience these lessons – others never will. If
Floodwall helps us to learn some of those lessons, then it will be a success.

Again, Jana Napoli, thank you very, very much.   As often as you have exhibited these drawers, each time you have produced a remarkable installation in a completely new form, responding to your space and the themes of the day. People often talk in an abstract sense about the role of art.  With Floodwall, you have demonstrated in a unique and beautiful way that art and culture can indeed play a role in recovery and rebuilding.

And a big thank-you to Manfred Pflitsch and his crew at the Historischer Hafen, for his incredible work in preparing the Kurier Ship for this exhibition and for all of his support to this project.

Ich wünsche Ihnen viel Spaß in der Ausstellung und kommen Sie bitte immer wieder an Bord des Kurier-Schiffs, das mit der Floodwall-Ausstellung durch Berlin fährt.   Bei Jana Napoli und ihrem Team, diesen großartigen Musikern aus New Orleans, den Mitarbeitern des Institute for Cultural Diplomacy und all den Organisationen, die ihre Ideale, ihre innovativen Ideen und ihren Einsatz für dieses Projekt teilen, sind Sie in guten Händen. 

[Please, enjoy, celebrate and come back often to the good ship Kurier as Floodwall travels around Berlin.   You will be in good hands here with Jana Napoli and her team, these great New Orleans musicians, the folks from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy, and all the organizations that have their idealism, their innovation and their energy to this project.]