In 2017, I integrated myself into the Red Cross asylum center
in Eeklo, which mainly receives young refugees who have often
come to Belgium unaccompanied. I ran a makeshift photo studio in
one of the classrooms where Dutch lessons being taught. As a
photographer and master of visual culture, I am committed to the
layering of images, the stories that evoke/provoke these images,
and the instrumental value of these visual narratives. I wanted
to give them a face and a voice and portray them from within.
Therefore, I took a first interview about their situation then
and now. Our conversation ended with the question: “What does
happiness mean to you?
In 2018 I met Charlotte Klipstein. I was fascinated by her
appearance, aura and her story. I took her to the places she
went into hiding during World War II, photographed her while
giving testimony to young people
and took a dip in the family album. A friend filmed a
captivating conversation with her. Here my concluding question
too was: “What does happiness mean to you? “
In 2019 I introduced my project to the Auschwitz Foundation.
They were instantly enthusiastic about the two story lines
touching each other and the visual interpretation of it. The
Auschwitz Foundation signed for the materialization of the
exhibition and made the Dossin Barracks’ (Kazerne Dossin) fourth
floor available so that 'Exodus, Charlotte - Esra', may
contribute to sensitization and awareness processes reaching out
and appeal to the general public.
Charlotte Klipstein, now a 95-year-old lady just
immigrated before World War II to Belgium. To escape deportation
to Auschwitz she had to hide several times. Her story -when she
as a little girl, witnessing from the balcony of their apartment
in Berlin the rise of Nazism to refuges in Flanders- is
visualized with photos from her family album, recent pictures
Esra fled Afghanistan after many detours, ending up in
the Red Cross asylum center. Along with Fateh, Mustafa, Nimo,
Duniya and many others, she awaits the outcome of the procedure.
Their portrait was made after their testimonials had been
recorded. Every conversation ended with the one and only
question: "What does happiness mean to you?
These two stories differ in time and space but have much in
common. These are stories about the destructive power of
standing on the run, on continuing suspicion in the homeland,
but also in the (not always very welcoming) host country, on
quotas, maximum numbers of refugees that Belgium, Europe wanted
and want to record.
Keywords: socially engaged art, remembrance education,
citizenship,reminiscence, oral and visual history.
The EXODUS Project will be exhibited in the Dossin Barracks
(Kazerne Dossin) from October 25, 2019 to January 26, 2020. The
Auschwitz Foundation will then exhibit it in Brussels (location
will be announced
later) on the occasion of the worldwide commemoration "75
years of liberation of Auschwitz."