DUBAI: Abdulazez Dukhan was only 13 years old when his life turned upside down as his native Syria experienced a political uprising a decade ago. The increasing unrest led him to relocate to Turkey, Greece, and finally, Brussels, where he currently studies computer science at university and has taken part in a new exhibition, titled “50 Humans.”
“We left Syria, but I don’t see that as a problem because we all had to leave at some point,” Dukhan, now 22, told Arab News. “It was hard for sure, because you have to build up everything from the beginning.”
Staying in a Greek refugee camp was harsh for Dukhan, originally from Homs, as it involved braving the cold weather and waiting in line for food, but it also introduced an unexpected activity: An interest in photography. With no prior professional skills in photography, he started using a manual camera, given to him by a camp volunteer, to capture refugees through portraiture in a humane manner.
A girl plays with a balloon, a boy wears a red nose, and an elderly man with a twinkle in his eye smiles gently towards the camera. “I saw how we were represented by the Western media. There wasn’t a lot of coverage on the refugee crisis from the neutral side,” Dukhan explained. “It was always the problems, the fights, while they don’t really cover the humans behind what’s happening.”
He’s come a long way from those days in 2016 but still practices photography, which he considers a “weapon” for social change and understanding. “I realize that photography is stronger than art. It’s more real. You bring the harsh reality directly to people,” he says. But, telling more hopeful and positive stories of refugees is what Dukhan has been focusing on.
“The first thing that pops up in your mind when you think about refugees is misery,” he says. “It always has to be about misery. It doesn’t have to be: ‘Hey, look! Yes, this is a refugee, who opened his company five years ago and he’s doing great.’”
Running until Sept. 29, a selection of Dukhan’s recent photographs on refugees in Belgium is currently on view in a free exhibition, entitled “50 Humans,” at the Church of Notre-Dame de Bon Secours in Brussels. Last summer, he travelled to 15 Belgian towns and cities, meeting with fifty men and women, fleeing from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Morocco, and Palestine, who shared their stories and were photographed for Dukhan’s project. Some have opened their own companies, established schools, and pursued their PhD studies.
The photographs are simple and poignant. Each sitter greets the viewer with a direct gaze in a silent yet amiable way. “The point is to show people as they are,” adds Dukhan. He hopes to raise funds for this project, exposing it in other cities and smaller towns in Europe and photographing more people, or 100 humans in total. “We want to keep moving around in countries,” he says, “until we cover more and more, until we really have a strong voice.”