THE HAGUE — In 2016, Yemeni documentary artist and storyteller Thana Faroq left her native Sana’a to begin a Master’s degree in Documentary Photography and Photojournalism at the University of Westminster in London. Not only was she leaving her home, but she was also leaving a war-zone, not knowing when or whether she’d ever be able to return and see her family again, and in what circumstances. She began to explore the experiences of people hindered by their passports — those asylum seekers, refugees and stateless individuals who are banned from entering certain countries — to confront what it means to be unable to migrate because of an identity document. As a result, The Passport (2017 – ongoing) was born — a body of work that Faroq has continued in the Netherlands, where she sought asylum, and which is the subject of a book and solo exhibition at Pulchri Studios.
The Passport centers on portraits of individuals photographed behind a pane of glass, trapped behind a border, with many of the subjects unable to escape violence and war in their own countries. In addition, these individuals provide statements about their own circumstances, opening up the stories of undocumented migrants.
Mirroring Faroq’s own story, The Passport depicts the transitory nature of restricted lives, capturing the hopes, fears, dreams, and struggles that come with attempting to survive in times of hardship, which are illustrated through images of men looking longingly out of windows and of children experiencing snow for the first time.
Conducted between the UK, the Netherlands, and the Markazi camp in Djibouti, with the majority of images produced in various refugee centers across the Netherlands, The Passport also illustrates Faroq’s experience visiting a refugee camp in a port between the borders of Yemen and Djibouti, which exist with only a sea in between them. These images will be published in a book following the exhibition. “There were smugglers telling me ‘I can take you there and you can be back by sunset if you want’”, Faroq explains, “I kept fantasizing about meeting my family. For a second I thought about listening to the smuggler and going to Aden and seeing Yemen. Nobody would have to know. There are no checkpoint, but I’d lose my residency. So I kept being technical about it.”
The Passport documents the lives not just of stateless individuals, but also Faroq’s own experience of escaping conflict, moving through London and settling in the Netherlands. But, it is just the start. “This is Chapter One”, she explains, “The Passport is going to be a book of many chapters. This was my healing, I feel empowered, it’s my own, it’s nobody’s to shape, it’s my own.”
Thana Faroq: The Passport continues at Pulchri Studios (Lange Voorhout 15, 2514 EA Den Haag, Netherlands) through February 2.