They wrote the countries borders on my skin

Poline Harbali

2019 - Ongoing

Montréal-Est, Quebec, Canada


photography, tattoo, video

Documenting womxn immigrants through tattoo.

Facing myself some troubles with my immigration journey to Canada, I first needed to create a community with womxn or non-binary persons facing same kind of difficulties to rise from this isolated situation I was stuck into for a year and half without documents and work.

Through an opencall for volunteers, I met womxn and non-binary immigrants in Canada for a tattoo project. The idea was to work with them on a tattoo about their immigration process.

Why being tattooed is important in their immigration journey ? Is there a link between their body as womxn and non-binary, their body as migrant and their choice of being tattooed ?

Ecologic issues, civil wars runners, political refugees or simply dreamers, they all expressed their choice/obligation to leave home was built in a singular way for being womxn and non-binary.

As a political response to the world, they chose to re integrate their body by being tattooed.

This scarification act, painful, bleeding and definitive as an answer of those patriarcal societies we are living in : there is no negociation anymore.

"It's on my skin. I am my own territory"

This wandering body has its home : the inked skin.

The title comes from a song by lebanese queer band Mashrou' Leila.

Awa from France-Senegal

Juliette from Mexico

Shelly from South Korea

Anonymous from Lebanon

Amanda from Venezuela

Naya from Lebanon

Layan from Koweit-Palestine

Marina from Brazil

Anonymous from Guatemala

Mira from Lebanon

Léa from France

Soukayna from Marocco

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  • Amanda from Venezuela
    "I immigrated in Canada 6 years ago. I come from Venezuela and I decided to leave the country because of the political situation. The truth is that when I left, everything got worse and worse until the point that we know today : the civil war.

    I arrived by myself and my husband had to meet me there, but during his journey, he got stuck in Chile and I haven't see him since a long time now. Because of our passport, crossing borders is not that easy.

    My life in Montreal is pretty monotonous... Having to get used to my loneliness is tough. I feel alone. I was expecting my mom to visit me but with the current situation in Venezuela, they refused to give her a visa. Since the last few years, it's one day at a time : my passport is expiring very soon, and because of the war, Canada closed the venezuelean ambassy and I won't be able to renewal my documents. I'm scared of being legally invisible, having no documents anymore, being no one. So my mission for now, is finding a way to renew my documents, having a valid passport. And waiting for my husband to come. Getting a tattoo for me, is a visual reminder : I got through all of this, I can do more. I often forgot that I'm brave, and I need a permanent memory of this moment I'm living right now. Feeling this pain, is also a way to get out of this monotonous life I'm leaving for now. Waiting, waiting. It's a way to feel something, it's acting on something that I can have the control on. I need to feel something, even if its pain.

    This tattoo moment will make me feel alive, and remind me why I'm here, or why I was there. I need hope."

  • Juliette from Mexico
    « I think there is no reason in particular for why I want to be tattooed about my migration process. This gives me just a reason to tell my story, leaving a trace, a scar in fact, because I don’t feel any of those two countries belong to me neither do I belong to one of them entirely. I arrived in Canada at 3 with my family from Mexico.
    For my parents, I arrived very young so I’m just canadian. But I, personally felt a gap, even if my immigration process has been very easy comparing to others, I felt at some point the weight of assimilation.
    Not in Montreal because it’s a cosmopolite city but when I was younger, we lived in a small town and for the others, my skin color was a symbol or a reminder that I was not from here.
    There is always a public debate to etablish if I’m from here or not, if I’m more this or that, and everyone seems to have the answer but me. My body is a public talk.
    Stepping outside this talk, by getting tattooed, is reinvestigating myself. My body, my skin and the tattoo are a reminder forever that this tattooed body, this transformed body rises above this duality that public space permits to be discuss even if I’m not interested in.
    My tattoo is a reconciliation.»

  • Skins

  • Shelly from South Korea
    « I was born in south Korea. Since very young, I had a conflictual relationship with my own culture and education, as a girl, and then as a woman.
    I never had the feeling of learning from school, but just being educated about what the society will expect from me in my future.
    Expectations, standards are very important.
    Being different was not an option for me.
    Before leaving Korea, one of my favorite feminist star commited suicide because of the pressure the society put on her for being feminist.
    The medias have a big power on people’s life and mind.
    This event changes a lot of things about myself, my relationship to my own body. I’ve affected because it was also symbolic.
    My father used to tell me this sentence :
    your body is mine. Don’t get tattoo.
    At this point, my options were very clear.
    My immigration process was first for education. But very soon, I discover that my immigration was about being a woman.
    Getting tattoo is at this point a political act of reappropriation of my own body. It’s a journey to discover that I belong to myself."

  • Juliette's skin

  • Anonymous from Guatemala
    « I arrived in Canada at the age of 7. I was born in Guatemala and we came to Canada as political refugees my mom, my sister and I during the civil war. My parents were communist activists and my father died after being sequestered. He just disappeared as many others.
    So after a year of exile through Guatemala, hidding ourselves to not live the same fate as my dad because my mom was wanted too, we finally arrived in Canada.
    When I thought the worse was behind us, while waiting for a year for legal papers the three of us in a little room, I’ve been sexually abused from someone close to the family. I mean, I was in a very weak situation as a little girl with no rights, no language, so, no voice. And another nightmare began. It’s the first time I talk about it. I had no choice but shuting up
    and waiting. Which I did.
    In my immigration journey, anything I thought about for years was painful. There, the journey and here. I suffered of PTSD and I’ve been diagnosed as borderline which is pretty funny when we think litteraly of the word. I’m still at the border line I guess. The persecution theme pursues you even if you cross borders. Even if your safe. It lives into your skin each second. For years I tried to erase my memory, to be able to live a decent life.
    I’m different now. I feel different. Getting a tattoo about my journey as migrant, as refugee, it is accepting myself, accepting my past and stepping in resilience. It takes suffering to grow. This journey was painful and live into my body forever. As my tattoo."

  • Amanda's eyes during the session

  • Layan's skin

  • Mira's skin

  • Léa from France
    « I grew up in parisian suburb in France first and then, I moved to the south of France.
    I came here by myself 3 years ago.
    My relationship to France is pretty painful.
    When I was younger, I had an hormonal imbalance, and I gained a lot of weight. I’ve been harassed because of my body my all life. At school, for sure, but into the family context also a lot.
    It’s cultural in France to be obsess about how our body looks like, it’s everywhere.
    When you are a woman at least. And if you’re not obsess yourself, we’ll work on it, don’t you worry.
    Everyone has an opinion about your body, and it’s instituted how normal it is to express it. At the end, it’s kind of a replacement. «We let you know that you don’t fit with us anymore so please, respect the codes. Be pretty as we educated you to be.» This culture, this misogyny cost me my mental health and I had to go. I wanted to be tattooed with some scars. Feeling the pain of those scars, was joyfull. It was like laughing at their face, I’m bleeding, look at this France. How gross and ugly is this ?
    Because this is how my body felt for years.Hurted because not politically correct, they wanted to mark my body with violence to punish me for not being the woman they raised me to be.
    My immigration gave me back my body. My mental health and my joy. Getting tattoo is a reminder of what means being a woman today. But the only scars I wear are the chosing ones.»

  • Mira's eyes during the session

  • The 12 participants of the project

  • Shelly's skin

  • Shelly's eyes during the session

  • Awa's skin

  • Anonymous's eyes during the session

  • Captures from the 12' movie of their eyes while they are getting tattooed.

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