In April, 20-year-old Syrian photography Abdulazez Dukhan came to The Conduit to share the story of his journey from Syria to Brussels, and to discuss his work changing perceptions of ‘the refugee crisis’. The event was co-hosted with Safe Passage and shado (See | Hear | Act | Do), a collective and an online and print publication amplifying the voices of those at the frontline of social, political and cultural change. By bringing together different voices across the fields of art, activism and academia, shado is a space for new narratives to be formed. In this piece, Hannah Robathan and Isabella Pearce, co-founders of shado, share how they first connected with Abdulazez and what they’ve learned by seeing the world through his eyes.
We launched the first print publication of shado at the end of January 2019 on the theme Changing Perspectives: Stories of Migration to Europe. As we are committed to the existence of shado as a platform for self-representation, over 70% of the contributors (artists; writers; chefs; musicians) have refugee or asylum-seeking status themselves. It was through the curation of this issue that we first met Abdulazez Dukhan.
Abdulazez is a Syrian photographer and digital artist, currently based in Brussels. Now aged 20, he was forced to leave his home in 2011 when the war in Syria broke out. He and his family left their city of Homs when Abdulazez was 12; they moved to the countryside with no access to electricity or water for two years, but when the pressure of the war reached these outskirts, they relocated to Turkey. When life in Turkey became impossible, the family made their way to Greece, with the intention of moving on immediately to find a life in Europe. However, days after they arrived in Greece, the border between Greece and Macedonia closed and the Dukhans were trapped, forced to become residents of various camps across Greece.
It was during this time that Abdulazez started to notice an aggressive culture of European photojournalists pervading the camps. They would lie in wait, sometimes for days on end, until a fight broke out. They would then snap a photo of that moment, sell the image to the media and ultimately use it to fuel anti-refugee rhetoric and propaganda. Frustrated, he decided to do something about it.
Abdulazez was given a camera by a volunteer in the camp and began to teach himself photography. He writes in shado:
“When I first held the camera gifted to me, and decided to start photography, my goal was to break the walls of misunderstanding between refugees and the world. These walls, built on misrepresentations in the media, ended up creating fear and hate, and “us” versus “them”. My message to the world is this: people need to understand that before they judge us by colour, religion, or ethnicity and label us as refugees, that we are simply humans. We are human beings before anything else, and labels should not be dividing us.”
He took portraits of the people around him and started his own page, Through Refugee Eyes, to display his important first-hand perspective to the rest of the world.
After nearly a year of living in camps, Abdulazez and his family were finally able to leave Greece and now have asylum in Belgium.
This is just a brief summary of Abdulazez’s incredibly poignant and expertly-told life story, which he recounted every evening for 7 days and in 7 cities across the UK. The tour, ‘From Syria To Sanctuary’, was supported by Safe Passage and their campaign to ensure legal routes to resettlement and family reunion in the UK for unaccompanied and vulnerable minors.
Safe Passage’s campaign comes 80 years after the Kindertransport, a momentous landmark in British history where the UK opened its arms to 10,000 unaccompanied child refugees fleeing Nazi persecution in Europe. They write, “Today, a new group of refugee children in Europe and beyond are in desperate need of safe routes to protection. Now, it is our turn.” The ‘Our Turn’ campaign seeks to put pressure on each of the UK’s local authorities to pledge to take in at-risk child refugees and continue the proud legacy of the Kindertransport.
The point of the tour was simple. Abdulazez’s is just one story amongst thousands, and Safe Passage wanted to highlight his story to represent how many more young people are at risk unless the UK steps up once again. The Conduit was the final stop on the tour – a space which we were honoured to inhabit, given its backbone of members with a passion for driving social change. We hope that The Conduit community can come together behind Abdulazez and Safe Passage’s cause.
To find our more about the work of shado and our upcoming events and projects please follow us on Instagram.
If you missed the opportunity to come to the event and see Abdulazez’s work at The Conduit, shado is hosting an exhibition of his photography at P21 Gallery on the 1st June. This will be the second leg of a 3-city tour, touring the work of 11 artists who have recently migrated to Europe. Held first in Athens, then moving to London and finally reaching Amsterdam at the end of the June, the aim of the exhibition is to publicise and promote the artists’ work to a wide, international audience; to switch up perspectives on those who have been through migration to Europe and to provide a space for each artist to take control of their own narrative.
By touring the exhibition, we will connect London, Athens and Amsterdam in a discussion around art, community and inclusion. This will be a real-life opportunity, during this hostile Brexit era, to bring together the work of these international artists and offer a cross-city experience of celebration, art, music and welcome, forging creative connections through the expressive and global language of art.
More information on the tour and how you can get involved is available here.