The politics of care in representing refugees. Exploring mechanisms of representation that stage appropriate refugee identities in order to justify the need for humanitarian care.
The photographic exhibition ‘Guatemalan forced migration: the politics of care in representing refugees’ explores the mechanisms of representation used for forced migrants that stage appropriate refugee identities to justify the need for humanitarian care. This project is inspired by the Whitney Museum of American Art’s 2005 exhibit titled ‘At the Mercy of Others: The Politics of Care’ — an exhibition more interested in questioning than affirming care. Similarly, the Guatemalan exhibition explores these questions through photo-documentary work with indigenous Guatemalan forced migrants living in the former refugee camp of La Gloria in the state of Chiapas in Mexico.
Through the use of an innovative participant photovoice ethnographic method, a series of portrait photographs have been taken, whereby participants determine how they would like to be photographed for the first frame, while a second picture reflects the dominant frame reflected in the humanitarian and mainstream media. These portrait photographs provide an opportunity to examine how an indigenous forced migrant community shapes its identity. At the same time, it deconstructs their stereotyped, gendered representation that portrays forced migrants—women in particular—as apolitical domestic nurturers; while males are viewed as mobile wage-earners or perpetrators of violent conflict.
Our findings reflect an overall aversion to the second stereotyped staged images, which counters the dominant representation reflected in the mainstream media. The opportunity for participants to reflect on each of the two photographs provides us with an examination of how forced migrants feel in the process of being photographed, and the role of the photographer and social scientist in subjecting forced migrants onto photographs. This process destabilizes normative conceptions of care portrayed in the media, and is an attempt to redress popular opinion to think critically of the local cultural representational forms and meanings of international forced migrants.
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