Memories: an exhibition of photographs presented at Te Takeretanga o kura-hau-po

The work of photojournalist Ehsan Hazaveh is exhibited at Te Takeretanga o kura-hau-po in Levin.

The unveiling of a collection of photographs to be exhibited at Te Takeretanga o Kura-hau-po this week depicting the struggles of refugees and migrants comes at a time when the Horowhenua community is set to adopt its own refugee quota.

This happy coincidence did not escape the artist Ehsan Hazaveh, whose exhibition entitled Memories was an attempt to raise awareness and challenge stereotypes of refugees by amplifying their voices through photography.

More than 70 Colombian refugees would be welcomed into the Horowhenua community over the coming year, the first of which was a family group of seven expected to arrive in the coming months.

Hazaveh was a Wellington-based freelance Iranian photographer whose photographic work is visual documentation highlighting the challenges faced by migrants and refugees abroad.

He earned an MFA in Graphic Design from Tehran University in 2015 and has just completed his PhD in Media Studies from Victoria University of Wellington.

“I became aware of the immense difficulties that these communities had to face in their daily lives,” he said.

“My personal experiences with marginalized communities…motivated me to document their stories, which are rarely told in the media.”

In 2012 he studied for a Masters in Graphic Design. By studying advertising photography, he gained an understanding of the function of photographs in areas such as advertising and social media.

Work by Ehsan Hazaveh.
Work by Ehsan Hazaveh.

By taking photos of people for commercial purposes, he realized the power of photography to “idealize and distort social phenomena”.

He moved to New Zealand in 2018 to pursue his interest in representing marginal communities.

Work by Ehsan Hasaveh.
Work by Ehsan Hasaveh.

“I soon realized that since many of us don’t know about the experiences of refugees, our knowledge of them is heavily dependent on the mass media,” he said.

“However, refugees have few opportunities to speak directly about their experiences. Instead, they are spoken about and portrayed as silent actors and victims.”

Memories is an attempt to raise awareness and challenge prevailing stereotypes about refugees by amplifying the voices of former refugees, he said.

Hazaveh said he was honored to have his work exhibited in a community center, where he had the opportunity to be seen more widely than in a gallery, and that was important for his purpose.

“When we come from different backgrounds, we have different perspectives. Different people offer different perspectives, and they also offer different solutions,” he said.

“You don’t have to change your point of view, just broaden your own perspective.”

“These stories show a wide range of life experiences.”

The exhibition opened this week with a powhiri by Muaūpoko. Among those present at the hui at the same time were Immigration and Refugee Support Officer Sarah Ward, National Refugee Officer Andrew Lockhart and Community Advisor Mohamud Mohamed.

There was a lot of work going on behind the scenes by community leaders working together to prepare and assist in the assimilation of incoming refugees at Horowhenua.

Tracey L. Sweeney