The heartbreaking story of refugees and migrants through Photos

The 25th annual exhibition by the Open Society Documentary Photography Project elevates the voices of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers.

James Jean, who is Haitian-American, and Patrice Worthy, who is African-American, wearing traditional clothing from their parents’ heritage. New York, United States, 2016. From the series “After Migration.” Photo: Walé Oyéjidé

In recent years, photographers from all over have flocked to countries affected by the refugee crisis, following the travails of migrants seeking refuge in Turkey, Greece and Lebanon. Others went to the source of the exodus, highlighting tragedies in Myanmar, Afghanistan and South Sudan.

In “Another Way Home,” the 25th annual “Moving Walls” exhibition series by the Open Society Documentary Photography Project, migration takes center stage not only because of our times, but because it has been a constant theme throughout the series’ history.

This one stands out for what it lacks: images of suffering.

After receiving more than 400 applications, a panel selected eight multimedia projects by 13 photographers and artists. In addition to showing their work for several months, each participant has also received a fellowship to further develop their work on migration.


“I wish to become a dragon and burn the scarves and everything in that tent.” Kawthar, 16, in Lebanon. From the series “Live, Love, Refugee.”Photo: Omar Imam


“We had to eat grass, but I couldn’t pass it through my throat. Yet I forced myself to swallow in front of the children so they would accept it as food.” Amenah, 41, in Lebanon. From the series “Live, Love, Refugee.” Photo: Omar Imam


A young girl living in a refugee camp witnesses snowfall for the first time in her life. Utrecht, the Netherlands, December 2017. From the series “The Passport.” Photo: Thana Faroq\

The series has been expanding beyond photography and now embraces all kinds of visual culture: Among the works this year are murals and virtual reality 360 videos.

While varying in format, all of the projects are deeply personal, and, for lack of a better word, refreshing.

“What we want to emphasize and what’s important to focus on is to resist narratives that portray refugees or migrants as a problem,” said Yukiko Yamagata, the acting interim director of the Documentary Photography Project.

Several of the participants are refugees or undocumented immigrants themselves, and some of them have collaborated with immigrant communities to create and share their stories. Their approaches range from celebratory to absurd, political to intimate. Notions of exile and resilience run through the exhibit, which is on view at the Open Society Foundations offices in New York.


Roberta Chalini is a member of Mujeres en Movimiento, a self-organized group that explores the use of dance, art, ancestral remedies and civic engagement to empower Latina immigrant women in Corona, Queens. 2018. Photo: Sol Aramendi/Project Luz


Valeria Reyes is a member of Mujeres en Movimiento. Queens, 2018.CreditSol Aramendi/Project Luz

In line with elevating the perspective of migrants and refugees, the participants’ native languages are prioritized over English on the walls and in the project statements. That way, visitors may understand the “frustration of having your experience as it relates to language come second, much in the way that an immigrant, migrant or refugee would experience when finding their way in their destination country,” said Siobhan Riordan, the exhibition specialist.

This year’s edition of “Moving Walls” features “Across la Tierra” by Layqa Nuna Yawar, an Ecuadorian-born artist; “Live, Love, Refugee,”by Omar Imam, a Syrian photographer and videographer; and “After Migration,” by the Philadelphia-based designer and artist Walé Oyéjidé.

Exhibited against a crimson red backdrop, Mr. Oyéjidé’s stately fashion portraits feature models who are themselves migrants. “It is true that many of these individuals who cross the seas and deserts in search of a place called home endure much and suffer much,” he said ahead of the reception. But, he added, “These are not the totalities of their experiences.”

Mr. Oyéjidé said he presents his subjects “as we all would hope to be seen. At their best. At their most regal and sophisticated.”


First as lookouts and later as full-fledged gang members, neighborhood children are groomed at a young age by their brothers, cousins and neighbors. San Pedro Sula, Honduras, August 2017. From the series “The Right to Grow Old.” Photo: Tomas Ayuso


Claudia Rivera, 40, is a doctor. Her family immigrated to the United States in 1983 when she was 7 years old to escape the civil war. After living in the United States for years, she eventually returned to El Salvador. September 2017. From the series “Welcome to Intipucá City.” Photo: Anita Pouchard Serra/Koral Carballo/Jessica Ávalos


A miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty stands in the garden of a house belonging to a family who once lived in the United States and returned to El Salvador to retire. September 2017. From the series “Welcome to Intipucá City.” Photo: Anita Pouchard Serra/Hans Lucas

In “The Passport,” the Yemeni photographer Thana Faroq documents her own journey fleeing her country for a new life in the Netherlands. She also juxtaposes black-and-white portraits of other refugees with handwritten letters in which they shared their experiences. (Both Mr. Imam and Ms. Faroq could not attend the exhibit because their visas were denied.)

The series also includes “Project Luz,” by the Argentine artist Sol Aramendi; “Welcome to Intipucá City,” by Jessica Ávalos, Koral Carballo, and Anita Pouchard Serra; “The Right to Grow Old,” by the photographer Tomas Ayuso; and “Fractured Connections,” by the FRPxTN collective, a collaboration between the Family Reunions Project and Tierra Narrative.

In “The Right to Grow Old,” Mr. Ayuso charts the dangerous route Honduran migrants have taken to reach the United States and explores the stories of those who prefer to settle in Mexico rather than further risk their lives with human traffickers.

At the heart of all these projects is the need to survive — the root of nearly all migration. That comes across in the title of the series, “Another Way Home.” It was inspired by a handwritten letter from “The Passport” in which one subject quoted “Home,” a poem by Warsan Shire.


A public mural made by Layqa Nuna Yawar in collaboration with the organization Esperanza Neighborhood Project, led by members of the local community. New Brunswick, New Jersey, July 2018. From the series “Across la Tierra.” Photo: Tico Photography\


A 360-degree video “postcard” experience in Guatemala, 2016. From the series “Fractured Connections.”CreditFamily Reunions Project/Tierra Narrative


Karla wore a hat that belonged to her brother, who had gone missing for several months. San Pedro Sula, Honduras, April 2018. From the series “The Right to Grow Old.” Photo: Tomas Ayuso

Cover photo: James Jean, who is Haitian-American, and Patrice Worthy, who is African-American, wearing traditional clothing from their parents’ heritage. New York, United States, 2016. From the series “After Migration.” Photo: Walé Oyéjidé


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