- PhMuseum 2022 Photography Grant
Dates2021 - Ongoing
- Locations United States, Germany, Ethiopia
In my series “Unsere Puppenstube” (Our Dollhouse), I photographed my younger sister Masantu, who was adopted by our parents, over ten years ago from Ethiopia. This project was therapeutic, as the act of photographing helped to boost Masantu’s self-confidence. While combating any insecurities she, like many other teenagers, may have about her appearance, it also disentangles her identity growing up as a young Black girl in a German-American family. In these images, Masantu interacts with a dollhouse that was first constructed by our great grandparents, continued by our grandparents, and finished by our father. This act symbolizes the legitimacy of her claim to my family’s generational memory, despite possible objections from ignorant people. As such, these portraits explore familial intimacy and the trauma of not belonging to any specific cultural group in the United States.
My current project expands on the themes I considered in “Our Dollhouse.” I have included six images of work in progress from this new series where I am primarily interested in investigating my family’s structure and how the experiences of older generations have shaped the lives of their children. As “Our Dollhouse” was about my younger sister, who is one of the youngest members of our family, I have now traveled to Germany to photograph our grandparents and collect their stories. This first journey resulted in long recorded talk therapy sessions about the second world war, family dynamics, cultural precedents, and invisible psychological or physical illnesses. All reaffirming my belief that trauma is passed down through generations. As an example, my grandfather’s experience of hunger and evacuation from Stuttgart to live away from his parents due to heavy bombing directly impacted my mother’s upbringing. In turn, this affected how I was raised, inheriting wounds from a culture that I grew up outside of.
This work is pushing me towards fusing my self-portraiture practice with the photo-therapy I engage my family in. To complete this evolution I will need to travel to Germany and the United States to be with my family members to make work. I also plan to visit sites like the Blackforest in Germany where parts of my family that have passed away used to live and stage work there. These trips are vital to the research that informs my process and I am currently in contact with historians in small German villages hoping to gain access to archival photographs to supplement my own family’s albums. I hope to continue collecting source material and photographing with the aid of this grant. While my work comes from a very personal place, it is pertinent to the current moment, as the audience is anyone who has ever felt out of place although they belong. With my camera, I am searching for the source of this feeling.
I am also interested in participating in the residency at Landskrona Foto as the mentorship offered through this opportunity would help me realize my aim for this work to exist as an experimental photobook. As Europe’s best meeting point for photography, I would be able to network with people that could give me a much-needed new viewpoint on my work outside both American and German culture. The time at Landskrona would provide the space for me to fully flesh out the representation of my torn identity in both visual and written print media.