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Dani Karavan, sculptor of Walter Benjamin memorial in Portbou, dies at 90

Sculpture ‘Passatges’ in northern Costa Brava honors not only him, but all humans going into exile in search of freedom

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31 May 2021 11:38 AM

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ACN | Barcelona

The Israeli sculptor Dani Karavan, the artist behind the Walter Benjamin memorial in Portbou, northern Catalonia, has died at 90 years old. 

His monumental piece, ‘Passatges’, built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Walter Benjamin’s death in 1999, is renowned for having transformed the public space in Portbou, on the Catalan coast by the French border. It was initially made financially possible by Catalan and German governments, and has since been declared a national interest monument by Catalonia. It also offers a unique view to the Mediterranean in the northmost town of the Costa Brava.

In 1998, Karavan was awarded the Imperial Praemium of Japan and in 2016, the Catalan National Culture award for ‘Passatges’. He is also the protagonist of the documentary ‘Dani Karavan’ by Barak Heymann which closed Barcelona’s documentary festival, DocsBarcelona, on Saturday. 

Walter Benjamin monument

The work ‘Passatges’ was built to honour the memory of the philosopher Walter Benjamin after the official paperwork declaring his death was found approaching its 50th anniversary. 

Benjamin was a German Jewish philosopher who was writing in exile since Adolf Hitler became chancellor, moving between Eivissa (Balearic Islands), France, Denmark, Italy and the US. 

After France started to become gradually occupied by German forces, Benjamin and some other German anti-Nazis took an infamous day-long walk aiming to cross the mountainous French-Spanish border, from Banyuls and aiming to reach Portbou, the first town on the other side of the border. He wanted to get into Catalonia so that he could get a boat and flee to the US, since Fascist powers were growing in Spain.

On arriving in Portbou, they were told that they could not progress by Francoist police officers. The next day, Benjamin was found dead in his bed in ‘Hotel de Francia’ from a morphine overdose concluded to have been suicide. 

Karavan’s memorial looking out onto the Mediterranean honors not only him, but all humans going into exile in search of freedom, especially those fleeing from the Nazis.

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  • Image of Dani Karavan from the documentary 'Dani Karavan' shown at DocsBarcelona (courtesy of DocsBarcelona)

  • Image of Dani Karavan from the documentary 'Dani Karavan' shown at DocsBarcelona (courtesy of DocsBarcelona)

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