President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the US/Mexico borders may have created publicity and controversy, but in fact there is nothing new in the idea and there are already walls along part of the border, plus naval patrols to prevent people circumventing them by sea. History is full of walls from, in the UK alone, Hadrian’s Wall, the Antonine Wall, Offa’s Dyke and, more recently, the wall in Belfast, plus other walls across the world – in China, in Cyprus, in the West Bank, in Tastina, in Melilla, plus the Limes Germanicus, featured in the recent EU exhibition ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire’ and the Maginot Line created in the 1930′s in France to resist a potential German invasion.
But what happens when politicians, communities or armies build a wall? Apart from the fact that it divides and isolates communities and may even split families, it sets up a human challenge. Mountains are there to be climbed; walls are there to be climbed over, dug under, broken through and, also provide a canvas for artists to decorate often with political images. History shows that eventually walls fail, are blown up, or political circumstances render them redundant. The sad thing about Ianthe Ruthven’s brilliant photographs in the exhibition ‘Borders and Barriers, Past and Present’, at the Royal Geographic Society is that too many of these walls still exist today in the 21st century.