NO LAND FOR LOVE

This project introduces the particular, fragile and mostly undocumented situation of LGBTQ asylum seekers. 
European countries are relatively accepting towards LGBTQ+ community. Yet, the fight against the preconceptions and violence these people fled from, might be a lengthy process. These women and men had to flee their countries, facing violent discrimination that started within their own families. They were sometimes forced into marriage or raped by a close relative, forced to leave their houses, their town, finally their country, and often their children. Frequently, they had to escape from human trafficking. Because of their cultural and/or religious background, and because of the traumatic experiences they went through, it is very difficult and distressing for them to talk openly about their sexual orientation. Thus, they often fail to make a clear case to the authorities, who which tend to overlook this essential point in assessing their situations. Dedicated foundations across Europe are doing a remarkable work, providing orientation, social and legal support, and taking action for a change in the authorities attitude towards them. Every asylum seeker has to endure expectation, uncertainty, precariousness, for one, two, sometimes up to seven years. In addition to this, members of the LGBTQ community have to put up with the discriminations from their own fellow citizens, the lack of knowledge among the european society regarding the hardships they fled from, and the fear of disclosing their sexual orientation.


Exhibitions

OBA Oosterdok, Amsterdam, April 18 - June 8 2019, hosted by Association IHLIA LGBT Heritage.

Taxed To The Max Festival 1919, October 6 - December 1 2019, Groningen
Dordrecht Pride Festival, March 13 - March 24 2019, Dordrecht
Town Hall, December 2019, Haarlem


PRINCESSES OF SHEBA AT NIGHT

‬A documentary project by Jean-Christophe Husson (photography)

and Delphine Gubert (texts)

Digital prints, texts silk screened with gold leaf


Exhibitions:

- AMSTERDAM / IHLIA LGBT HERITAGE SQUARE / OBA Public Library

January - March 2018

- PARIS / TOWN HALL 3rd district
March - April 2018

PRINCESSES OF SHEBA AT NIGHT tells the life of young people based in Marseilles, France. Among this group, while most of them come from Maghreb countries, some grew up in France. But all, have Muslim religion or culture. They agreed to pose in front of our camera and testified. 

Most of Western-Europe and the larger cities in the USA are relatively accepting towards the LGBTQ+ community; the issues that gay and trans people face are minor in comparison to countries where acting out as a homosexual or transgender can lead to a prison sentence, torture and in some cases death. 

With this photography project, we want to present the lonely and often complex stories of LGBTQ+ people with a Muslim religious or cultural background. Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people with a Muslim background fear more difficulties when disclosing their sexuality and still have to hide their ‘true lives’ from family, colleagues and even ‘friends’. Some fear of homophobia, transphobia and any other kind of exclusion. Many ‘choose’ or in other words ‘have to’ leave their family and community. All people that are being photographed now live in the Western part of the world. Via this first series, a combination of photographs and texts, we take a look at how they can openly live in their sexual identity and gender identity. Our creative process aims to focus on the narratives about their identity, struggles, and dreams. A photographic medium is a tool in the journey of self-construction, a way to find self-acceptance. It is a mirror game between the portrayed person and the public, where each one is encouraged to reach out to the other party. 

GERTRUDE PRESS

Interview with the Artists

Jean-Christophe Husson, photographer

Why did you decide to photograph these particular people and how did you meet them?It all started with Sofiane. I met him a few months before this project started when I shot a portrait of him. I was doing some volunteer work helping young men find jobs in a shopping mall. It’s important to understand that unemployment is very high in Marseilles. For young people it’s around twenty percent, and getting a job is far more difficult when your family name is of Maghrebbackground (people from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, etc.), even if you are French and born in France, which is the case for Sofiane.So this day, Sofiane arrived with a beautiful black hat and a woollen cape! But when it was his turn to come in front of the camera he took both cape and hat off, trying to hide part of himself to minimize his queer identity. He was here to get a job. But I said to him, "Are you crazy? You look great, keep it and be you!" He smiled and we made a great portrait! This is how we met.I then knew I wanted to tackle these issues using portraits and real testimonies, but I had no idea how to start. I knew that meeting with Sofiane was the key to starting the project so I called him and we met again. He told me how things work here; how he had to keep a low profile to feel secure in the city. It was not even about cross dressing—it was about not even using feminine gestures on the streets of Marseilles, especially when you are a Maghreb Guy in a district with a large majority of Maghreb population, which is the case in the center of the city, close to the harbor.So we started talking about who he had to be versus who he would like to be. Sofiane talked about his family, his difficulties, the refugee shelters he stayed in, and of course about his friends and their cross-dressing moments, dressed-up like princesses and Sheba queens when they go to a small queer nightclub. Surprised by his story I asked, "Are you not afraid of being mugged on the way?" He laughed. "I’m six five, so with heels I’m quite impressive. And most of the time we are 8 or 10 strong in the streets… " Later, I learned that Sophiane used to play Rugby XII during school, so he could probably take care of himself.My desire to create this project was motivated by the sincere connection that I had with Sophiane and the unfriendly context of Marseilles. I felt that Sofiane and his friends were brave and that their stories would speak to others. They also need people to look at them with love and respect. I hope this is what they felt during the shoot.

What do you want to do with this series (i.e., a gallery show, a book, more media coverage, etc.)?As a photographer, I want this story to be seen. I want it to grow. We are happy to have this first chapter published with you! We hope to publish in various countries and to address various audiences.

The main project that we call the ‘Lotheidoscope’ deals with homosexuality and Islam throughout Europe. We aim to have this exhibited in galleries and to be published as a book. I want the people I shoot to feel respected and heard by someone, even if I am not part of their community. I am not gay; I am not a Muslim. I want Sofiane and his friends to be heard by a large audience that includes other Muslims in Europe. Hopefully later we can create an exhibition featuring gay Muslims coming from different backgrounds and different parts of Europe. It is really different to be Muslim in Marseilles than a Muslim in Copenhagen.

When I shoot pictures of young men and women who are in personal, intimate struggle with their identities, I want them—even if its just for two or three hours—to feel respected and loved for who they are and who they dream to be.
How has doing this project impacted your life?
To be frank, my wife and I were not aware at the beginning of the project of the struggles our subjects face in their everyday lives. Now, we talk about what is to be an escort here in Marseille, what it is to dream of a sexual reassignment so young, how families can reject people—even abuse them, and how a young student can be afraid every day of just going to the market. It was a reminder that in my own neighborhood, someone can live in a world so different and so difficult; that everyday, if I meet someone on the street I need to be aware of that. It reminds me of the best advice that filmmaker Ira Sachs gave me. On his set, between takes, he told me, quoting Socrates : "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." I do know that my new friends, Sofiane, Hamza, Aniss, Popia, Yarra, and Omar fight hard battles, and they need our kindness.
What do you hope people understand from viewing this work?
I hope people will read these stories and begin an open and frank dialogue. And to be more pragmatic, I hope to shoot more portraits in Paris, Amsterdam, and other cities in Europe and I do hope we find the money to invite them... Somewhere new, somewhere far from Marseille and their struggle, in a welcoming place, and that they will meet new friends.

Delphine Gubert, text/storyteller

How did this project change your life?Meeting these boys was really moving and gave me perspective in my everyday life. Depending on the boy, getting their testimonies took time since they are so used to giving impersonal versions of their lives to protect themselves from judgment and from their own family. Jean-Christophe and I had true empathy, true interest in them, and I think it helped to build this relationship of trust to get authentic testimonies—real accounts of their struggle.
I have to confess that I struggled to keep a distance from the subjects because it moved me deeply. I was really sad and shocked by some of the horror stories that I heard—how a boy can escape from his own family, how a boy can take the risk of going on a small boat and risk everything in order to survive. Then when he arrives, he is reduced to prostituting himself to eat.
I know it is kind of naive, but it is so different to hear it in the news than to actually meet people who have endured these things. I think our deep feeling of concern helped me to gain their trust, getting slowly to their trueness. I am really grateful to them for letting me into their lives.

What do you hope will come from this project?
I hope that this experience of being photographed and letting themselves tell their stories about their relationships with their families, with religion, and with people around them is a step in building their future identities. I hope it’s a step toward accepting themselves.
I hope we will find some people or organizations that will be interested in our project, and will help us to show this work to more people so we can increase understanding and empathy in the general public. Finding galleries, editors, and institutions will allow us to travel with this project around Europe. We intend to enrich our subjects and help these young people to feel less misunderstood and less alone, and to see themselves in the future with more confidence and self-esteem.

Using Format