© 2019 Anna Van Lenten

Ghosts of the Sahara / Andrew McConnell

April 2011

Exhibit opening, screening, & talk

Tuesday April 12, 2011, 7:30 PM
Moderated by Jamie Wellford, International Photo Editor at TIME

For four months in 2009, I took photographs of Sahrawis—now into their 35th year of exile from Western Sahara, their North African territory. Sahrawis were originally Bedouins who migrated with their livestock, following the rains. When Morocco invaded Western Sahara in 1975, most Sahrawis fled to refugee camps in Algeria, where today they number 170,000. Those who stayed incur Morocco’s tactics of repression which include imprisoning dissenters, rigging judicial processes, and police abuse.

 

In pursuing their story, what struck me more than anything else was how forgotten these people are. How is it possible, in the 21st century, for tens of thousands of men, women, and children to languish in refugee camps for three and a half decades—unknown? How can continuous UN resolutions and international laws be ignored and abused without censure? And how can human rights abuses proceed unchallenged?

 

I wanted to give a sense that this is one long night for the Sahrawis—lasting 35 years. My showing very little of the land emphasizes that the Sahrawis are landless. By lighting them simply and in darkness, I am trying to say, ‘Look! These people are here!’ Their statements are a grim rebuttal to international efforts in Western Sahara; the majority want a return to war. Finally, I wanted the viewer to see what I had seen: a people utterly forgotten, abandoned, hidden from the world’s consciousness—a people living as ghosts​​.​​​​​​​​

 

ANDREW MCCONNELL was born in Ireland in 1977 and began his career as a press photographer covering the closing stages of the conflict in his homeland and the transition to peace. He later worked in Asia, and in 2007 moved to Africa to document the issues and stories from that continent that are widely overlooked by the international media. “Ghosts of the Sahara” at The Half King will be the first showing of McConnell’s Sahrawi work.

 

All photos © Andrew McConnell.