The beauty that remains...

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What remains when one has lost everything, when one has had to leave one's country, one's ties, one's possessions? What remains are the bare necessities for survival and sometimes an object, as a link with life before. The photographer Thierry Dana wanted to talk about exile differently, through images of objects that migrants took with them and which have a strong symbolic significance. From the 8 March they will be exhibited at the House of Arts Grütli, Geneva. Upsetting. – Isabelle Cerboneschi.

What are the common points between a pink glove that is fraying, a wooden cross, a tie, a driver's license? At the same time nothing yet everything. They belong to migrants from different countries, cultures and religions, and these objects represent what these people have most dear, more symbolic in this day.

These "memories" are what remain when we have lost everything, we have left a life behind us. They were photographed without decoration, from the front, detached from any context, by the photographer Thierry Dana. For months, thanks to the social workers of theHospice Général de Genève he surveyed migrant centers in the canton of Geneva, knocking on doors and collecting testimonies.

Thierry Dana was the winner of the show « La Course autour du monde In XNUMX before choosing a banking career. It was when he left it that he was able to return to his first love: to give an account of the world and of those who live in it. He obtained a degree in photography at the IEFC, in Barcelona, ​​and now puts his experience to the benefit of organisations whose values ​​he shares. His images are the subject of an exhibition entitled " Être et Avoir From XNUMX to XNUMX March at the Maison des Arts du Grütli , in Geneva. A heartbreaking work that forces us to look in the mirror and ask: "If that happened to me, what object would I take with me? "

IC: When we talk about migrants, we usually give figures that nobody can relate to. Sometimes we show a face that can allow identification. Why did you choose the object you keep against all odds?
Thierry Dana: From the beginning the idea was to tell the story of people without showing faces, without giving any indication of their age, their religion or their sex. I do not believe that showing everything makes identification or empathy easy. On the contrary. I wished that objects act as mirrors that would help each spectator to enter into discussion with another, in this case a migrant. Objects are mediums, they are neutral. They could almost all come out of our drawers, or at least belong to us. If you look at my exhibition from a distance, you do not know what she's talking about. We come by curiosity, then we discover stories. And perhaps by getting physically close, we will mentally approach those situations that we tend to avoid.

Where did this idea come from?
Everything started from a story that was told to me: that of an Iraqi refugee who had fled his country with the keys from his home. His house having been destroyed, he left with an object that had become useless, but carrying it became all that he was. These keys told that he had a house, they talked about a city, a neighbourhood, his neighbours, his family. We focus on the keys and not the person who owns them. You can identify yourself, imagine yourself with your own keychain in your pocket. To make this series of photos of objects on a neutral background, without details that allow to identify them, makes the problem universal.

How did you meet all these people?
This work was done in collaboration with theHospice Général de Genève. To meet the migrants, I did not go abroad but in different refuges in the canton: Malagnou, Presinge, Frank-Thomas, Grand-Saconnex, Bernex. It was still necessary to obtain the trust of my various subjects and for that, I needed a key, a way in. It was the social workers who helped me get it. Without them and their daily work, uphill, with migrants, I will never have obtained these testimonies.

Was it an brief from theHospice Général or a personal job?
It's a very personal job that I proposed to theHospice Général and that was done in collaboration with them. It is not "for" but "with".

The title of your exhibition is " Être et avoir (to be, to have) ". In the case of the migrant, is it to be?
At school, the first two verbs that we learn to conjugate are the verbs "to be" and "to have", as if both were representative of everything, the origin of what we are. This exhibition tells the story of people who lost their money without having lost their being. Also this title appeared to me as an ironic evidence for an exhibition made in Geneva.

Did the chosen object make the telling of their story easier?
What touched me the most in this project is that every time I took a picture of an object, his owner thanked me for being interested in him, in his story. What he / she is and not what he / she seems to be. From that moment I realised that I had achieved my goal.

Each of these objects seems invested with a magical power that only the one who possesses it can understand: the doppa lucky charm, the handkerchief embroidered with love, the medallion to enter in communication with God, ... As tiny as they are, these objects speak of hope and if these people are there, it is because they have never lost that hope. Do you feel that the object gave them the strength to cross?
For all the interviewees, it is not an object but a part of oneself, of their personal history. At the beginning of my research when I asked the first migrants I met to talk about an "object", the answer was invariably the same: negative. When I realised that we should not talk about objects but "memories", that we had to understand a story, then the "objects" finally came out of suitcases and cupboards. There was no desire to hide them from me, just it was a problem of understanding between us. For these migrants, they are not objects but extensions of themselves. These memories are not exterior but interior.

A migrant reports that he took his washcloth with him to stay clean when he arrived. Looking at this little frayed thing we imagine the test, and beyond the test, this desire to remain human first and nothing to let go ...
All objects have in common to communicate to us those same contradictory feelings in which despair and force of life mingle, infinite sadness and untouchable happiness.

Is this work related to your family who had to leave Tunisia in the early 60 years?
As I move forward in my photographic work and whatever the subject, I realise that I speak unconsciously of myself, of what constitutes my identity and my memory. This work is no exception. In 1961, Victor and Patricia left Tunisia with their two sons. They took with them a small metal fish, symbol of fertility and luck. I took the picture of this fish. It does not appear in the exhibition but it exists as a flyer and will be distributed with others to announce my exhibition.

And you, what object would you take away?
We will only discover it once we have to leave home, not before. Why I do not want to answer this question. As long as we are not confronted with such a situation, such a drama, we do not know how we would react or what we would do.

Being and Having, Thierry Dana, Maison des Arts du Grütli, 16, rue du General-Dufour, Geneva, from 8 to 17 March 2019.

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