Collaborations

Markazi

This exhibition casts light on the conditions of mobility and immobility in Yemen and the Horn of Africa through its focus on households and everyday life in Markazi, a refugee camp located in Djibouti. Located just 30 kilometers across the Bab al-Mandab strait, Djibouti has received approximately 40,000 arrivals from Yemen since 2015. Despite its being one of the poorest and smallest countries in Africa, Djibouti maintains an open-door policy for refugees. It currently hosts over 27,000 refugees from Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, and Yemen.

Markazi — meaning “central” in Arabic — is the world’s only camp designated for refugees from Yemen. Now home to almost 1,500 individuals, Markazi is a new site of convergence for persons displaced from Yemen’s Red Sea coast, Aden, Taiz, and Sanaa. Located at a crossroads, within kilometers of the shores from where Ethiopian migrants disembark on their own perilous journey to the Arabian Peninsula, Markazi demands greater concern for the millions of lives disrupted by conflict and famine in the region and for the thousands of brave individuals who strive to move to a better future.

Markazi — meaning “central” in Arabic — is the world’s only camp designated for refugees from Yemen. Now home to almost 1,500 individuals, Markazi is a new site of convergence for persons displaced from Yemen’s Red Sea coast, Aden, Taiz, and Sanaa.

 Located at a crossroads, within kilometers of the shores from where Ethiopian migrants disembark on their own perilous journey to the Arabian Peninsula, Markazi demands greater concern for the millions of lives disrupted by conflict and famine in the region and for the thousands of brave individuals who strive to move to a better future.

A child plays at the Markazi refugee camp in Djibouti. Nadia Benchallal
A child plays at the Markazi refugee camp in Djibouti. Nadia Benchallal

Nadia Benchallal’s striking black and white photographs and color family portraits taken between 2016 and 2017 depict camp residents navigating a state of increasingly permanent suspension. Together, we aim to use our photographic and ethnographic lenses to amplify their perspectives and aspirations. In a world with increasingly impermeable borders, these images are tasked with breaking down barriers by traveling in the refugees’ place. We hope that, someday, these and other refugees will have the same freedom. In addition, a companion exhibit aims to disrupt the boundaries between refugees and citizens, professionals and amateurs, students and teachers, research subjects and friends.

In January 2017, Nadia Benchallal and Nathalie Peutz gave cameras to ten Markazi residents who collaborated with us over the course of a year. These individuals — male and female, originating from various regions of Yemen, with varying levels of education, representing each of the four residential sectors in the camp, and aged between 17 and 60 years — were selected based on their willingness to document their everyday encounters and concerns. Each of the participants met repeatedly with Nadia in individual and group meetings to discuss photographic methods and approaches.

A year later, in January 2018, we extended this collaboration to a class of students from NYUAD. This group was tasked with documenting their daily encounters in Markazi not through pictures, but through words. What becomes clear from the students’ written reflections is that while some may have thought they were visiting a refugee camp to “give to” and “teach” refugees, it was the Yemeni refugees of Markazi who gave to and taught us, again and again. Through shared lessons, sports, meals, music, and laughter, “they” became “us.”

In the words of Richard Rorty, “...the inclusion among 'us' of the family in the next cave, then of the tribe across the river, then of the tribal confederation across the mountains, then of the unbelievers across the seas (and, perhaps last of all, of the menials who, all this time, have been doing our dirty work). This is the process we should try to keep going. We should stay on the lookout for marginalized people — people whom we still instinctively think of as ‘they’ rather than ‘us.’ We should try to notice our similarities with them.”*

This exhibit urges us to notice—and insist upon—our similarities with refugees and other forced migrants displaced and encamped throughout the world.

Exhibition Dates

Feb 4 to Feb 27, 2018

NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Center
Project Space

Feb 4 to Mar 31, 2018

NYU Abu Dhabi
Humanities Building (A6)

Feb 4 to May 30, 2018

NYU New York
NYUAD Institute
19 Washington Square North

Media Coverage

The unsettling beauty of the Markazi camp exhibition and the questions it prompts
The National | February 17, 2018

Exhibition shows life from a migrant's perspective
The National | February 6, 2018

NYUAD exhibit comes to Washington Square
Washington Square News | February 12, 2018

Refugees and representation
The Gazelle | February 4, 2018

Students' experience in Djibouti
The Gazelle | February 10, 2018

Markazi camp exhibition
The Gazelle | February 10, 2018