One exposes oneself to the other – the stranger, the destitute one, the judge – not only with one’s insights and one’s ideas, that they may be contested, but one also exposes the nakedness of one’s eyes, one’s voice and one’s silences, one’s empty hands… He or she turns to one a face made of carbon compounds, dust that shall return to dust, a face made of earth and air, made of warmth of blood, made of light and shadow… Community forms in a movement by which one exposes oneself to the other, to forces and powers outside oneself, to death and to the other who die…. In the midst of the work of the rational community, there forms the community of those who have nothing in common, of those who have nothingness, death, their mortality, in common. But is the death that isolates each one a common death? And can it be identified as nothingness? “
The Community of Those who Have Nothing in Common, Alphonso Lingis
The ‘No Man’s Land’ art-photography (2016 – ongoing) project tells the stories of young men who have found themselves in limbo or in transitory situations, due to political, social or economic reasons. Their stories reflect global contemporary issues such as political persecution, the refugee crisis, racial discrimination, the rights of queers and transgender persons, and homelessness. The young men, who the photographer encountered in his travels, in social circles or online, have been photographed in places that not only are relevant to their personal stories, but also carry wider symbolism. The photos are edited using photomontage or collage techniques to further convey the participants’ stories and the issues they presented. This project continues Mualem-Doron’s explorations of socially engaged photography practices which began in 2000 in his Ph.D. research “The Dead Zone & the Architecture of Transgression”.
Displacement is the essence of the Limbo. Not being born in the country I grew up in, I was assigned to this place. I am still in that place, now living in the country I was born in, but never really belonging. Being of mixed race complicates things even further. I cannot reclaim an identity, but rather an ever present otherness. I reclaim the No Man’s Lands. Patrice’, who I met in London a few years before I embarked on this photography project, was a reflection of my own state. Born in France to amum from Martinique and a Guadeloupian dad, he knows that a few generations ago, one of his ancestors was white, like many Caribbean people who were slaves, but not much more than that. His mum moved to Paris to be free, fully independent and get a job. His grandmother took his father to Paris in order to start a new life. Patrice’ moved to London to experience a new country, culture and learn English. Sometime he feels a stranger in all these places, sometime he feels at home in all.
I met Sammer in a visit to Acre, Israel in 2015. It was a few years after I left the country where I had grown up and lived until I returned to my birthplace, London, in 1999. I was looking for a Palestinian parkourist for a series of photo montages that would depict the struggle of the Palestinians against the barrier wall Israel constructed in their land. The whole project changed after spending the day with him. Sammer identifies as a Christian Palestinian-Israeli. It is not only his identity that placed him in a limbo, but also his socio-economic status. He is a professional parkourist but works as a delivery man, and is engaged but cannot marry until he has completed the house he is building for his fiancé. The site for the photographs was Acre’s Beach, between the sea and the city walls. Stripped from particularities of this space, the liminal state has been re-introduced in the collages in a more abstract ways, hinting at the wider stories of the lives of many young Arab men in the Middle East and North Africa post the Arab Spring. The series was exhibited at a charity exhibition by Maan, Israel which provides professional training to Palestinian woman and helps them find work.
I met Youri in the sand dunes of Gran Canaria. At that time, after completing Sammer’s series I wanted to explore the theme of migration and refugees through a series of photos of a meandering person in a vast emptiness of sand dunes. Youri saw me with the camera and asked if I could take some photos of him that might get him a job as a model. He was born in Guadeloupe, raised in the Banlieues of Paris, and escaped to Gran Canaria due to the racial discrimination and the homophobic environment in which he grew up. After a short conversation about his life in Gran Canaria, I agreed but asked him to participate in the No Man’s Land series as well. The project yelled two distinguished series. One relates to the issue of migration, and the other, through collage techniques, is a reflection on the in-between space that the post colonial body occupies. The 1st series was exhibited in a group exhibition at Photo Voice, London.
The focus on how the Other’s body negotiates in spaces from which it is or is made to be estranged from led me to the third series with Jared, a local artist and a trans person from Brighton who was in the process of transitioning from a female to male body. The site for the photography was the most challenging one for trans persons, especially those who are not yet “fully transitioned” – the swimming pool. The gendered changing rooms and showers, the vulnerability of exposing post operation scars to the eyes of other visitors in a society where transphobia is still common, is not without a risk. We took the photos in the Queens Hotel swimming pool on a quiet afternoon. The dramatic underwater lighting and the attempt to convey the new life Jared is now experiencing as a young male led to the imagery of rebirth.
Maybe the most challenging work was capturing the limbo conditions, the journey and the trauma of a refugee. I met Mohamad at the MEP (Migrant English Project) group in Brighton in which we both volunteered. It was hard to imagine the tragic journey that this sunny and welcoming guy had to endure. One evening, in his hometown of Raqqa, that by 2017 was under ISIS occupation, he was stopped by a group of the militia and was ordered to report at their camp. Knowing what it might lead to, he went into hiding, with no time to see his parents or girlfriend, and that evening, with just his clothes on his body, and a small sum of money, he escape to the Turkish border and from there, through a three month journey, arrived in the UK. Muhammad brought his love of breakdancing to the photo-shoot. We chose several Freezes (when the dancer is frozen in a certain position) as the template for the work. The suspension created by these moves were accents via the black background and contravention of the body in the editing process.
I knew Elvis for almost a year, but nothing prepared me for his confession that led to this photography series. A year before his arrival from Lithuania, he was raped and almost lost his life. When he arrived in the UK, in a routine HIV test he was diagnosed as HIV positive. He had been keeping his trauma and health status quiet for several years until last year when he felt that doing so was causing him constant distress and a continuation of the suffering that was been inflicted on him. As part of the process of recovery, he wanted to be photographed in a kind of re-enactment of the rape scene. Safe in the confined of the studio he undressed, instructed me how to tie him and gradually released himself from the bondage.
The “no man’s lands” project that began in 2016 is still continuing and the stories of the people I have met are yet to be told. Watch this space.