Last Wednesday, a new exhibition of works by the former Photographer Laureate Ahmet Polat opened in the Polak Building. To make the works for this series – entitled ‘Weer Toekomst!’ (‘A Future Again!’) – Polat trailed along with the refugee students of foundation UAF. During the opening, the photographer also presented an award to the winner of a photography competition organised by SG Erasmus.

Ahmet Polat organised the exhibition in partnership with the Foundation for Refugee Students UAF. This foundation helps highly-qualified refugees to find a suitable degree programme or job. Polat’s work has appeared in publications like Rolling Stone and The New York Times, and he has exhibited in major venues like Amsterdam’s photography museum FOAM and the Rijksmuseum.

‘Refugees are more than just refugees’

The interactive part of the exhibition. Image credit: Arie Kers

With the exhibition in the Polak Building, Polat and the foundation hope to show that refugees are normal citizens too. “The way refugees are framed by the media defines how we think about them. I wanted to show that they are more than just boat people or pitiful people standing behind the fence of an asylum seekers’ centre,” explained Polat during the exhibition opening.

The photos show scenes from the daily lives of former UAF refugees. We see them celebrating their birthday and visiting the fun fair, dancing and going to church. One of the people portrayed in the series, Victor Habyalimana, has also come to the opening. He is enthusiastic about the results: “I think the pictures really show me for who I am: a competitive fellow who wants to get ahead.”

Polat’s exhibition is interactive as well. Visitors can listen to a podcast in which the former refugees talk about their lives. In addition, you can tear copies of the pictures, including the accompanying texts, from a life-size ‘tear-off calendar’ and add them to your private collection.

A never-ending staircase

During the opening, Polat also announced the winner of the ‘Flash Forward’ photography competition organised by SG Erasmus. The organisers challenged students to make a photo showing their vision of the future, their dreams and their expectations. Polat had been asked to select the best image from the 32 photos presented at Erasmus Pavilion.

The photographer builds up the tension before announcing the winner: “The entries were very strong in technical terms. That’s why in choosing a winner, I decided to pick a photo that touched me emotionally. The image in question was made by Shirin Engel.” Her prize: a cheque for a photo enlargement of her own picture. Engel explains the meaning of her photo: “I based the photo on an Iranian proverb: ‘Life is a never-ending staircase’. As soon as you achieve your objective, you set new goals for yourself.”

Polat’s exhibition can be enjoyed in the Polak Building until Friday, 20 January. The exhibition at Erasmus Pavilion, presenting 32 photos by EUR students, runs until the end of 2016.

Polat congratulating Engel. Image credit: Arie Kers