Best Work by an Emerging Photographer | Winner

Silke Schwarz

Berlin 0

17 square metres – waiting for a new home


Independent of the state in which they live, every asylum-seeker in Germany has a legal right to a minimum living space of 4.4 and a maximum of 6 square metres. The consequence of this is that no one has a chance to spend even a moment alone. In homes, the private rooms in which families or several single persons of the same gender are accommodated generally have a standardised floorspace of around 17 square metres. The authorities define the rooms in which the asylum-seekers live as public rooms, not as private. The core theme of my works is the temporary accommodation of asylum seekers and the permanence of this temporary status. An intermediate stop in a completely new environment, in an unfamiliar culture, in a country whose language you can neither speak or understand. A provisional state that draws on for months or, more often, years. Living in the constant hope of finding a new home, a new future, the opportunity to establish social connections and settle down for life. This endless wait for a new home is the central theme of my works. ‘17 m² - Warten auf Heimat‘ (17 m² - Waiting for a new home) shows asylum-seekers in their temporary home over a period of six months. Personal items like wall hangings, pictures or carpets in the identically-sized rooms provide insights into the origins and cultural backgrounds of the individual residents and lend character to rooms that otherwise appear hostile and sterile. In my works, I depict the lives of the residents and their personal environments in a place that was promised to be provisional.


Silke Schwarz, Berlin

2006: Photography course, City of Ulm; 2011: Semester abroad studying Fine Arts at Hunter College, New York, USA; 2009–2013: Studies at the Berlin University of the Arts, Germany

Jury Statement

In ‘17 m² - Waiting for a new home’, Silke Schwarz spotlights the life of asylum seekers in their personal environments in a place that was promised to be provisional, and allows the viewer insights into the personal character and dignity of those who suffer this fate. It is rare that the issue of ‘asylum in Germany’, a subject not easy to realise in photographs, has been documented in only five, such deeply moving and sensitive images. At the same time, each of these five images tells its own, unique story. Photojournalism with a gentle touch...