An artist whose giant sculpture of an upside-down figure was erected in central London this week, says the work was inspired by his grandfather’s experience as a Jewish refugee to the UK.
David Breuer-Weil’s piece, Alien, which will be seen by thousands of Londoners while it is on display in Belgravia over the next 18 months, was prompted by the story of Ernst Breuer-Weil, who fled Vienna after the Anschluss, Austria’s union with Nazi Germany, in 1938.
On arrival in Britain he was labelled an enemy alien and briefly interned by the authorities.
“My grandparents never really felt like they belonged,” said the north London-based artist. “Even when Ernst was 75 years old, he still felt like he was in Vienna.”
Mr Breuer-Weil said he wanted to share the “untold tragic story” of someone who always felt like an outsider, but who named his son George as a symbol of his hope that Britain would open its doors.
“Coming here literally saved his life — other members of his family were murdered, so there is a sense of tremendous gratitude, but with the paradox of him being an enemy alien,” he said. “I’m not commenting one way or another on the issue of immigration. But, if I think of myself, I’m only alive because it was allowed, so it’s a very strong subject.
“Often you find in our community people are quite opposed to immigration, but actually we would never be where we are or have survived without it, so it’s really potent material.”
He hopes his sculpture is appreciated for its artistic merit as a work of “science fiction” as well. “The piece is about landing on an alien planet — to a certain degree being Jewish is all about that. We belong in this culture, but our forebears crash-landed into it.”