State of Being

State of Being

State of Being

Documenting Statlessness

How do you document people who do not officially exist? That was the challenge I faced when the Rijksmuseum asked me in 2017 to photograph statelessness for Document Nederland, an annual exhibition that focuses on a topical societal phenomenon.

“A person without papers is not a person,” said Ali - an undocumented immigrant who can not prove his identity - the first time we spoke. During the course of the project, I met people who had become stateless at some point in their lives and those who were born stateless in the Netherlands.

With no passport or other documents to prove their identity, the things most people take for granted, like renting an apartment, getting married, studying, taking out health insurance and working legally, are impossible. Being stateless has tremendous consequences. Without citizenship, people have no legal rights or protection, sometimes with inconceivable and devastating effects.

In the Netherlands an estimated 10,000 people are stateless. Worldwide, this number is 10 million. People may be born stateless, or lose their nationality due to discrimination or inadequate legislation, or when states break up.
Proving that you are stateless is difficult in the Netherlands, requiring documentation that those who are stateless often do not have. Nor is there any official procedure to establish whether an individual is stateless. As a result, many people are forced underground.

The portraits show the myriad faces of statelessness – young and old, born in the Netherlands or elsewhere – and its impact on this vulnerable group of people who find themselves trapped in a Kafkaesque world of Dutch bureaucracy.

The exhibition has runned from 6 October 2017 to 7 January 2018 in the Philips Wing of the Rijksmuseum.