place which does not exist

Tomasz Laczny

2015 - Ongoing


Unlike the Berlin Wall or the wall in Palestine, few people have heard either of the Berm (the wall which is in fact the second longest wall in the world) or the conflict in Western Sahara – which remains one of the longest-running conflicts in the world. Also little is known about the longest minefield on the planet beyond the people it’s meant to keep out.

Western Sahara is a divided territory with a complex, war-torn history. Spain ended more than 90 years of colonial rule of Western Sahara in 1975 after decades of a violent Sahrawi independence movement. When the Spanish left, Morocco sent 20,000 into the territory, kicking off a war that lasted for 16 years. Sahrawis fought under the flag of the Polisario Front, supported by Algeria and Libya, while Morocco had backing from France and the United States. Tens of thousands died and more than 100,000 were displaced. As Morocco settled the Atlantic side, they built a wall down the middle of the territory, to keep Sahrawis and the Polisario Front in the desert east. The wall was a series of sand berms fortified with thousands of Moroccan soldiers and millions of landmines. In 1991 a ceasefire was declared and under the terms of a UN agreement a referendum for self-determination was promised. Many years later the Saharawi are still awaiting that referendum.

I visited the Sahrawi refugee camps in the Sahara by chance. While there l was exposed to the simple and harsh way of life that the refugees lead there. My experience was so strong that after just a month I had to return again. I started to take quick snapshots to capture a flavour of life there. Why did l find the camps so fascinating? I guess the journey changed my point of view of many different things. It definitely taught me a lot about patience and human dignity.

The project i shot contains a combination of photographs from the camps as well as graphics based on satellite images of the camps from space. I would like to further continue this project and document life from both sides of the wall and surrounding minefield itself. To show country and families divided by the wall. But also I want to capture the staggering beauty of the landscape.

I would like to come back to places I visited already -- refugee camps in Algeria. I wish i could come back to the camps during the summer when temperatures reach way over 50*C and harsh and unforgiving environment is testing life of people living there to its limits. that's why the place is called “The Devil’s Garden’.

But I want also to explore place I never been to known as No Man Land and also territories occupied by Moroccans. This requires few trips a lot of preparations and researching.

The aim of this project is to raise awareness of the situation in Western Sahara. An unresolved conflict, which is relatively unknown, especially to people in English speaking countries. As time passes the frustration between Saharawis grows and it would be a shame if the only solution to resolving this forgotten conflict was a return to war.

I believe that we live in the time when the question of building walls between countries is still valid one.

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