matrah مطرح


The last day of work: today the buttons will be sewn on. They are distributed symmetrically on the mattresses and keep the stuffing in place. Pencil dots show where the buttons are meant to be. The men use a thick and very long needle. They need to help each other; one must press the mattress down at the point where the button will be, the other pushes the needle through the mattress, picks up the button and goes back through the mattress. That is a job which demands full concentration and strength similar to all the other tasks in the production. It’s quiet in the room apart from the occasional clicking of Kristin’s camera. During a break we all complain about the weather: it has been raining continuously for days. Zakaria says that his image of a German winter had been quite different – not as warm, neither as wet. In Syria winter means minus 17 degrees and a lot of snow.


Then the men continue working – today all the mattresses must be finished for the coming week when there will be the final party. Time for an interview with photographer Kristin.

Kristin is taking part in the project Matrah for several reasons: first, because she wants to help her friends Daniel and Philine, second, because she feels at a loss about the refugee problem and third, not least, because she is curious and wants to encounter new people and cultures. The very first meeting was a challenge: the women in the sewing-group refused to have their photographs taken. But a compromise was reached: Kristin was allowed to take their photos while they were sewing but on no account of their faces. There was no such problem concerning the men. Kristin is aware of the complex relation between the desire to take direct, personal photos and the safeguarding of the personal sphere of the human being in front of the camera. During the workshop the atmosphere has relaxed and became warm and friendly in no time at all, thus Kristin can work spontaneously and with little restriction in these surroundings. She says she feels like an observer who does not interfere but just shows what is happening. It’s important for her to grasp the situation, not to judge, not to force people into clichés. It’s the ambivalence that stimulates her: on the one hand, as a photographer, she is somewhat removed from the events, on the other hand, through taking photos, she comes into contact and thus becomes part of the whole.


The mattresses have to be flat when the buttons are sewn on, the horsehair has to be pressed together. This is best achieved by sitting down on the mattress with all one’s might. Thus, during the interview with Kristin, there are numerous comic moments when one of the men sits on a mattress like a sultan on his throne. There is much laughter. Kristin takes photos.
It’s Philine’s turn to be interviewed.


Philine is a set designer; she and Daniel planned the project Matrah together. She has been his advisor during the whole process. They decided that the covers of the mattresses should be made from material originating from the orient. They were lucky to find remnants of damask material from Syria, each bale being extremely colourful: yellow, pink, blue, green. They decided to use the fabrics not as such but rather to assemble them in a new way, at the same time changing the direction of the patterns. They were inspired by a photo of prayer mats aligned diagonally to the room, directed towards Mekka. It was not the religious factor that decided the issue but the idea of making something unconventional happen: to make the material run diagonally to the shape of the mattress. The result shows: the mattresses are of great variety, individual and yet forming a unity. Philine sums up her personal experience:

Before the start of the project they had both foreseen a number of possible difficulties, e.g. cultural misunderstandings or rivalry between the men. There were no such difficulties; on the contrary, Philine is convinced that the group as such might go on working together after the end of the project. If only German bureaucracy would play along! Seen from the inside the project Matrah has proved a success but the ‘official’ side is full of obstacles. That is, according to Philine, the negative aspect of the project: the authorities say, “NO” over and over again: there is no possibility of a payment of fair wages, no possibility for flexible structures – thus private commitment is curbed. The question which remains unanswered for Philine –  as well as for the whole group is how refugees can be integrated into the German job market if those who want to help them integrate are confronted with so many difficulties.