Safe/Unsafe is a traveling photo exhibition about safety, in which refugees and veterans show us in their own images and words what they need to feel at home somewhere. The project started in the summer of 2017. In 2018 the most beautiful photographs where exhibited in galleries throughout the Netherlands.
Why is Safe/Unsafe about veterans and refugees?
At first these two groups may seem a surprising combination, but they actually have quite a lot in common: they both have experience in countries that usually classify outsiders as ‘dangerous’. Yet they sometimes felt safer in war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq than in our seemingly ‘safe’ Netherlands. Veterans here miss the brotherhood from the army. Refugees miss the familiar environment of ‘home’. Many of them feel displaced and lonely in our ‘safe’ country. Apparently, a sense of security is not only determined by the lack of conflict, but all sorts of other factors play a role: for example, whether there are people in the neighborhood who stand up for you and who you can trust to help you when you are faced with problems.
Who initiated Safe/Unsafe?
Safe/Unsafe was initiated by writer and anthropologist Roanne van Voorst (Ph.D), who spent years researching the themes of risks and safety. She interviewed refugees in refugee camps on Lesbos, spoke to newcomers in the Netherlands, and talked with young veterans returning from missions. She shared their stories through the photo-exhibition, through lectures throughout the Netherlands, and – in romanticized form – in her latest book ‘Lief van je’ (Sweet of you).
What do we hope for?
Aim of Safe/Unsafe is to provide visitors, listeners and viewers with a more nuanced picture of what it actually means to feel safe and at home somewhere and how we can make sure everyone feels safe and welcome in the Netherlands.
The photos are for sale and your investment will support the maker! Are you interested to buy an enlarged photo for your home or your (company’s) wall? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
The Photo Exhibition:
I got your back
“I took this picture through my binoculars. Being able to watch my buddies and knowing they would also protect me makes me feel comfortable. I’m proud to have such committed buddies who would always have my back. In civilian society, there is no one that I’d trust with my life.”
Strengthening the watchtower
Peter de Man – Cambodia, 1993
“This watchtower was only made from corrugated sheets. From a safety perspective, it was a complete sham. Meanwhile we had already seen and experienced dangerous situations like being provoked by enemy units in the middle of the night. On top of that the locals would shoot into the air during a full moon due to superstitious beliefs. When the situation got more grim we took precautions, like strengthening the watchtower with sandbags.”
A Sense of Safety
Wasim al Wattar, 27 – Syria
“I enjoy getting out in the streets shooting pictures, usually portraits. It’s my way of connecting with people. I also photograph typically Dutch buildings or objects, like windmills or bicycles. To me this fire hydrant at the train station is a very typical example of governmental measures to make Dutch citizens feel safe.”
Lonely game of soccer
Odai Alkrede, 24 – Syria
“Once a week I try organising a spontaneous match of street soccer, but usually there is no one who wants to join me. When I show up with a ball in the streets of Syria, everyone just joins in. In the Netherlands things need to be organised beforehand, otherwise no-one has time. Usually I end up in an empty field playing against myself, and that makes me feel lonely sometimes.”
Creating a safer place
Peter van Gasteren – Lebanon, 1979
“I’m on the left in this picture in which you see an outpost in Lebanon where there was absolutely no protection at all. We slept in a simple arch tent on top of the hill and had to survive in a very dangerous situation. We piled up some sandbags and eventually managed to create some semblance of a safe place.”
Odai Alkrede, 24 – Syria
“This photograph symbolises a situation in which I seem to find myself quite often these days; the anonymous guy who’s smoking a cigarette by himself and is physically as well as mentally in a space where he’d rather not be. The fence holds painful memories of the loneliness I felt in different refugee camps. Even in the Netherlands I often feel quite alone…”
Mohammed, 27 – Syria
“For me this photograph is about finding a new balance. I’ve been in the Netherlands for a year and a half and I had to leave my parents behind in Kuwait, where they’re awfully discriminated against. I miss them a lot, but I’m also grateful to be here. I got accepted into University to study economics. This helps me feel more and more at home in the Netherlands and gives me courage to slowly get back on my feet.”
Children’s toy left behind
Eyas Hafez, 23 – Aleppo (Syria)
“I found this knitted car in a childcare facility. It reminded me of my home, in Syria. I wondered how many children were forced to leave their favourite stuffed animals behind in the war. I think these kids instantly lose the safe and carefree feeling that all children should have.”
Brothers in arms
Dennis – Afghanistan, 2008
“The way you connect to someone during a long mission outside the gates, with the constant threat of fire from enemy units, is hard to understand for civilians. We know everything about each other: who is married and has kids, but also what someone’s response is when being shot at, and the way our veins work in case someone quickly needs an IV. We tell each other everything. Even today, we’re still brothers in arms.”
Fighting for my buddies
Dempster – Afghanistan
“I didn’t fight because of nationalism, I didn’t fight because of idealism, and I didn’t go to Afghanistan to help the civilians over there…I fought only for my buddies.”
The day Pooh died
Esther Cappon – Sarajevo (Bosnia)
“The Winnie the Pooh bear I got from my mother, burned when the hut I lived in during my mission went up in flames. Honestly, I often felt less safe within the walls of my camp than out in the field. With 400 men and only 11 women, I had to cope with sexual harassment on a daily basis. After twenty years I finally felt able to start dealing with everything I experienced inside and outside of those walls.”