One in every 122 people on earth is a refugee. Let that sink in. Some are displaced within their home countries and some are seeking asylum across borders.
Last week I went to see REFUGEE, a traveling photo exhibit by the Annenberg Foundation that was sponsored in Houston by Fotofest International. The Annenberg Space for Photography commissioned five internationally acclaimed photographers to capture the refugee experience on five different continents. It was stunning. The link above will take you to the official website of the exhibit and some of the photographs.
I’ve been hesitating to write this post because, well after all, a picture is worth 1000 words so how can I possibly describe what was contained in this photo exhibit in a 600 word post? I only took a couple of photos of the photos because it seemed weird and probably frowned upon.
Lynsey Addario photographed the Rohingya of Myanmar. Discriminated against because they are Muslims in a Buddhist state, many are forced to live in camps within Myanmar where they don’t have access to education, medical care, or legal jobs. The photographs highlighted the difficult conditions and suffering in the camps.
She also photographed a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon, focusing on the life of 12-yr old Hana. Here is a picture of Hana riding to work at dawn to pick cucumbers. The photos depict a fairly ordinary seeming life, but Hana and the others are always aware that they are not really home.
Omar Victor Diop photographed portraits of refugees in camps in Cameroon. More than 850,000 residents of the Central African Republic, nearly one-fifth of the country’s population, are displaced both inside and outside the country due to power struggles between Christian and Muslims. If refugees were able to make it to the camps in Cameroon or other neighboring countries, they were able to find medical care, food, and shelter. The portraits (and their captions) revealed proud, strong men and women who were looking forward to building new lives and providing for their families. Although this section of the exhibit highlighted the future and the potential for these refugees, they have all lost so very much.
Graciela Iturbide photographed life inside the Puente Nayero Humanitarian Space in Columbia. It is a safe zone created by 302 families trying to stand up to violent gangs. The drug trade in Central and South America has made life difficult and dangerous. Certainly we hear about people fleeing these areas and seeking asylum in the US, but imagine the other option of having to live within a compound in your city just to feel safe. How valuable is freedom?
Martin Schoeller took portraits of refugees resettled in the US in 2015. These extreme close-ups remind us of how much more alike we all are than unalike.
Tom Stoddardt documented the refugee crisis in Europe with photographs from the shores of Greece to the streets of Berlin. Mostly Syrians, but also refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Eritrea, Somalia and Nigeria are all fleeing from armed conflicts in their home countries. His photo of the piles of life jackets and the realization that each one represents a person fleeing one life for another is the one non-human image that has really stuck with me.
There were two other series of photos in the exhibit, I apologize that I did not get the photographer’s names. One was a series of photos of Sudanese refugees showing the most important item that they brought with them.
The other was a series of photos from the town of Rigonce, Slovenia. Within a 10-day period, more than 70,000 refugees passed through this town of 176 residents on their way from Greece to Germany and Austria – an unusual route that they were forced to take when Hungary abruptly closed its border with Serbia on October 17, 2015. Here photos of the refugees were mounted side-by-side with the people of the town.
I know this post doesn’t do justice to the exhibit, but there’s a short film that comes close. I sat and watched it at the exhibit, but it is also available on Netflix. There’s a short preview of it on the website linked to above. It’s called REFUGEE and is narrated by Cate Blanchett. Personally, I don’t even know how to watch something on Netflix, but I’m confident all of you do. Next time you’re trying to decide what to watch, invest 23 minutes on REFUGEE.