PEOPLE OF RESILIENCE The Yemeni Diaspora of East Africa by Chris Van Laak
1 – 10 November 2019
I feel like we collectively live in an age of total global transparency, which paradoxically is also an age
of total global ignorance. It is an age where data on everything and anything is ubiquitous. In theory we
have all the facts in front of us, but these facts are as contested as they have never been before. We
know how many people suffer from wars, we know how many are displaced, how they are displaced
and who is dropping the bombs that kill them. But not just those bombs, also facts, or “facts”, or
numbers, or “numbers” are shouted out as weapons.
The bigger the horror and the bigger the number means the bigger the impact in the war of words,
pictures and “facts”. Millions are dying drowning in the mediterranean while trying to flee war and
atrocities!* And at one point I wanted to be among the brave photographers who tells the story. Now I
feel like my desire to be part of a good cause was compassionate, but not very well informed – at least
it lacked some first hand information.
The story I found and that captivated me is the story of Yemeni refugees in East Africa, or in the wider
sense the story of the Yemeni diaspora living there – the silent exchange between countries and
continents, the century old and ongoing redefinition of identity and belonging of some people who
don’t fit into the big picture of storylines that define world history today.
In Ethiopia, the biggest country in the region, there are little more than 10,000 Yemenis according to
the UNHCR, a number that is not newsworthy by any standards. But for me this small number of
Yemenis or Yemeni-Ethiopians actually turned out to be intriguing to me. It allowed me to show the
stories of individuals who don’t represent millions of others facing the same situation, but stories of
ordinary people who cope with a situation that we might (or might not) be able identify with, as we as
ordinary people might have to cope with a similar, yet completely different situation in our lives in the
shadows of events of world history.
About The Artist: Chris Van Laak
Born 1986 in Germany, based in Taiwan. Since setting foot in Asia in 2014, he has shifted his focus from a career in the NGO-sector towards photography, documenting development in a cultural context while reflecting the role of the photographer as an outsider immersing in communities.
His work has been exhibited internationally with solo exhibitions in Thailand and India.
His latest work has been influenced by his background in Philosophy of Arts and evolves around the idea of “giving visual agency to the ordinary” in times of excessive visual representation through the Internet and social media.
He works as a curator and teacher in Taipei, seeking collaborations with local communities in Taiwan and as of late also with local communities on his trips to East-Africa. He pursues strictly personal projects and contributes to twreporter.org, an independent media outlet in Taiwan.