Documentary and street photographer and storyteller based in London with a great interest in issues related to forced migration and the marginalised.
Dimitri in a red dress, her favourite colour, to celebrate St. Dimitri's day. Her hands show her grace. Her eyes, the scars and the pride of her battle.
Dimitri was born as a boy in the small village of Skála Sikaminéas, on the Greek island of Lesvos, and at the age of 14 told her parents she was a girl. She struggled to be accepted throughout her life, and experienced tough times, living in a mental institution during her childhood, as well as years of homelessness in Athens. She had to fight for her right to cross the invisible border of gender identity. After her parents passed away, she started wearing women's clothes. Dimitri told me she now feels comfortable with her identity and the way she looks. When I asked her why she often looks sad, she said her mood is melancholic because of all the horrible things happening in the world. There is in fact another story, hidden in the background, one of forced migration, which Dimitri can witness first-hand. The invisible border between Turkey and Europe lies in the water just a few km behind her. Thousands of people cross it every year, fleeing conflict or persecution, and land on this island, often on the shores of her very own village.
Finalist in Reconstruction of Identities Open Call (Nov 2019).
Featured on Immaginare dal vero (Mar 2020).
FAMADIHANA - RECONNECTING WITH THE DEAD
Malagasy people have a very unique relationship with death, far from what we are used to in the Western world.
Famadihana is a ritual to celebrate the ancestors, traditional to the Merina people, in the central highlands of Madagascar. The celebration starts at home with a treat, fat pork meat (bemanaka). Then the whole village joins the family on their journey to the crypt of their ancestors, where the head of the family gives a speech in front of the assembled crowd. The bodies are exhumed and carried out of the tomb on straw mats. Family members raise them above their heads and dance to the music of flute players. The dead are updated with recent family news, some are even given a swig of their favourite liquor. The ritual is all about reconnecting, in a joyous rather than mournful way. Before being returned to their tombs, the bodies are wrapped in new shrouds and tied up. The sound of cloths ripping overlaps with the chatter and the live music, in a solemn and emotional yet very festive atmosphere.
Zhara, Malika and Hussain are three young siblings. They live in a small flat in a 15 storey building in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. They are Hazara and come from Afghanistan, but they had to flee their home country, as Hazara people are still facing ethnic and religious discrimination and persecution. The three siblings are alone. In Kuala Lumpur, Hussain provides for his sisters by working in a bakery. He is the eldest. “You never know how strong you are, until being strong is the only choice you have.” This is his quote on social media profiles. His commitment and resilience are beyond moving. Malika, the youngest, is really good with languages and often acts as an interpreter from Farsi to English for the others. She teaches English in kindergarten, in the local community centre for Afghan refugees, to kids aged four to five. ‘They are cute, but also a bit naughty’, she says laughing. She has the most hilarious and sweet laugh you could imagine. Zhara is a beautiful young woman, with a more composed personality than her sister. She cooks delicious Afghan dishes, that remind her of home, and dreams of one day becoming a doctor.
Unfortunately, however, they aren't afforded the luxury of a future. Malaysia didn't sign the 1951 Refugee Convention and it doesn't recognise the refugee status. Yet there are 160 thousand registered refugees in the country, and many more unregistered. They are mostly Rohingya refugees who escaped from Myanmar, but other nationalities are present too - Syrian, Yemenis and Afghans amongst them. They aren’t allowed to work and cannot attend state schools, while the cost of private ones is too high for them to afford. They can only rely on UNHCR-issued ID cards. Under Malaysian law they are liable to arrest or deportation, but showing this card provides some protection. Since they aren’t allowed to work legally they have no choice but working off the books, with very low wages and no protection. What is worse, if the police find them working, they can be arrested or sometimes have to bribe them in exchange for turning a blind eye. It's a limbo similar to asylum seekers awaiting a decision in Europe, the difference being, for them it will last until Malaysia changes its policy relating to refugees. The chance of relocation to a third country that could provide asylum is very slim. The USA being the main country of resettlement from Malaysia, the chances have recently become even slimmer due the policies implemented by the Trump administration.
This is Zhara, Malika, Hussain and many others’ everyday reality, barely allowed to exist, let alone dream. Trapped between a painful past and a bleak future, far from home, they are relying on their incredible resilience, in a present that feels like it’s frozen.
"Every reader, as he reads, is actually the reader of his own self." Marcel Proust
SNAPSHOTS IN BETWEEN
Photography taught me to see and seek beauty and I often find myself taking mental snapshots of what's around me. Sometimes I also take an actual photo. ;)