Photos by Aizaz Ansari
On Feb. 4, the Markazi exhibit opened its doors to the public in the Project Space of the Arts Center at NYU Abu Dhabi. The exhibit is the result of a year-long photography project conducted by Nathalie Peutz, Assistant Professor of Arab Crossroads Studies, in collaboration with Nadia Benchallal, a professional French-Algerian photographer, and supported by Akkasah, Center for Photography at NYUAD.
The Markazi exhibit captures the daily lives of refugees in Markazi, a small Yemeni refugee camp located in Obock, Djibouti. It is a UNHCR-administered camp providing shelter to around 1500 people. Having fled the war from Yemen through Bab al-Mandab, many Yemenis have sought refuge in Djibouti, their first destination in the horn of Africa. Throughout their visits between Dec. 2016 and Jan. 2018, Professor Peutz and Benchallal conducted research and photographed sceneries and portraits of families in the camp.
Professor Peutz explained the reasons for undertaking an image-centered project in her ethnographic research.
“Having photography with the project is because typically academic texts reach a certain audience, like scholars and historians, but photographs can extend out to a much wider audience — people who may have not known about the issue. So it’s also about trying to think of new ways to disseminate information,” said Professor Peutz.
“It is the silence of the global media that spurred me to partake in this project,” noted Benchallal, when asked about her initial motivation of participating in the Markazi project.
“No one spoke about the situation in Yemen, and I wanted to convey the reality to the world. Also, the idea of working with an ethnographer interested me; I believed that perspectives of the two could be complemented to create a stronger message.”
A distinct feature of the exhibit is that it includes photographs taken by the residents of the Markazi camp themselves. At the start of the project, nine refugees were given cameras and went through workshops teaching them how to document daily routines through their own lenses. Along with Benchallal’s photographs, these self-created images play an important role in bringing out the personal stories and perspectives of the households.
Part of the installation was also set up in A6, where it mainly featured written reflections of 15 NYUAD students who had partaken in the project during this year’s January Term course The Other Crisis: Migration and Displacement in the Red Sea. The course took place in Djibouti, where the students spent their time at Markazi, carrying out educational projects and interacting closely with the refugees.
Many of the January Term students expressed excitement on the opening day and volunteered to assist the setup. Throughout the evening they organized a booth selling handmade wallets made by the women of Markazi in front of the exhibition, which was another initiative to spread awareness about the ongoing situation.
The Markazi exhibit is also taking place in NYU New York, at 19 Washington Square North, from Feb. 4 to May. 30. At NYUAD, the exhibition will be on display in the Project Space until Feb. 27.
Soohyun Hwangbo is a staff writer. Email her at [email protected]