Briana Smith

bjsmith@fas.harvard.edu
Articles by Briana Smith

Grassroots Glasnost in East Berlin

On 30 May 1989, a black pictogram of a camera framed in red with a diagonal red slash appeared on two major landmarks in East Berlin’s central Alexanderplatz. The message was unmistakable: no photography allowed. Some ran home to grab cameras and returned to defy the order. Another man quickly hid his camera, and a West German tourist exclaimed “typical East,” assuming the ruling Socialist Unity Party (SED) was behind the regulation. But this was no act of state. In fact, “Photography Forbidden” was an art action from East German artist and conceptual photographer Kurt Buchwald. During the action, Buchwald captured responses to the signs with photographs of his own. This caught the attention of a nearby police officer, who pointed to the signs and informed Buchwald he must stop. Buchwald ignored the warning, and the officer arrested him. The arresting officer soon learned the signs were connected to a city-approved experimental art festival. Buchwald was free to go.

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