This year, TASSC (Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition) is celebrating 20 years as an organization - a huge milestone for the staff, founders, supporters and most importantly - survivors. TASSC is an organization whose mission is to end the practice of torture wherever it occurs and support survivors as they empower themselves, their families and communities wherever they are.
I have collaborated with TASSC to produce a series of portraits of the survivors that will be shown as an exhibition at a very special reception with the Founders and survivors at Open Society Foundations in Washington DC this week.
The exhibit “From Trauma to Resilience: Portraits of Torture Survivors” features 10 portraits of individuals who fled their home countries seeking safety, recovery and political asylum.
The accompanying statements capture the courage and determination that led them to seek assistance through TASSC in Washington.
I wanted to produce a series of portraits that were as powerful as the statements and stories of the individuals, to invite the viewer to see the survivors in the fullest measure of their humanity. I therefore asked the survivors —who come from Asia, Africa, and the Middle East—to choose photos from their past that held special meaning for them which I projected on to them in a studio.
Whether a serene landscape or a vibrant street scene, the projected images show emotionally charged moments which become part of the individual’s skin in the photographs.
Emotionally, the portraits push viewers to look beyond whatever pre-conceived notions they might have about refugees and asylum seekers and see them as individuals with very human connections to place and home.
Most of the survivors were tortured by repressive governments for “reasons” as varied as joining opposition political organizations, criticizing their governments publicly, refusing to join the ruling party, being related to a political dissident or because of their religion or sexual orientation. These courageous men and women were persecuted for standing up for freedom of speech or assembly or for exposing government corruption, fighting against gender-based violence or forced early marriage for girls.
Torture continues to be documented throughout the world. The refugee population statistics sites a large percentage as torture survivors with the current global refugee crisis being expected to explode this number.
For more information go to TASSC