by Lerato Dumse
“My name is Lindeka Qampi, I was born in 1969 and I’m a mother of four kids; I will start with my background.” These were the soft-spoken words used by Qampi when she opened the photography-training (PhotoXP) workshop in Oslo, on June 7 2016.
Qampi proceeded to share with the group her journey in photography, which began a decade ago. She explained that she started her photo career documenting the daily life of her community in Khayelitsha, a township in Cape Town, South Africa (SA). “Last year I started to put the camera in front of my face, I use the camera as a tool to share my issues, I use the camera as a key of life and as a way of healing my inside soul.” Qampi used these descriptive words to introduce the Oslo participants of self-representation photography workshop.
The photographer acknowledged that it is not always easy to share a personal story, as it makes one feel like they are reborn. She affirmed the group that the workshop would serve as a healing session, aided by photography.
The first session of the six-day workshop was more theoretical than practical, with presentations by lecturers from the local Photo Art School and the nervous participants bouncing their ideas around while asking questions.
Dubbed the United Queer Nations by co-facilitator Zanele Muholi who joined the workshop on the second day. The group consisted of Ondine Umuhire (Rwanda), Ilia (Russia), Nina Bahar (Iran), Lucien Chen (Taiwan), Ruth Nakato (Uganda), Su Thet Mon (Burma), Ahmad Umar (Sudan), Eddie Esmail (Sudan) all participants currently reside in Norway, with some having spent most of their lives living in this country.
The training is called Photo XP by the two facilitators as it is based on the objective that participants will experience photography. The pair from South Africa started their photography skills sharing journey in 2009. They have travelled from different SA cities including Eastern Cape, Cape Town, Aurora Girls High School in Soweto, and are currently working with six black lesbian youths in Kwa-Thema. Although they have a strong passion for increasing the number of female photographers, they continue to work with mixed gender groups and had successful trainings in Cotonou and Porto Novo in Benin and another training in Cagliari, Italy in 2015.
“When I was invited to be part of the workshop I was excited because of all the technicalities of photography; then I was a little hesitant when I realised I would be a participant. It is not easy to be in front and expose yourself,” Mon said. Muholi had directed the first question to her. Another participant Ahmad Umar admitted that while he tries to digest everything, he was not sure which aspects to represent between the life changes he is currently going through, his past or his strong personality. Continuing from a follow up question from Muholi, Umar spoke about an urge to represent a part of himself that will inspire others and not portray weakness and clichés.
Eddie Esmail said, “I am interested in photography and self-representation.” Adding that the first day’s discussions gave him more understanding. Esmail spoke about his multiple identities, which range from being Sudanese to being an architect and many other layers in-between. While he is not an artist he admitted that he likes art and would like to add his voice in the workshop and exhibition.
Sharing her views about what she calls home, Nina Bahar explained that for her, home is where she feels safe. “It can be in Turkey where I meet my large family and sometimes it can be in Oslo, depending on my feeling of safety, normal and not being attacked,” stressed Nina.
Micro aggression and everyday questions and comments such as where are you from? You speak Norwegian so well and being invalidated while trying to share personal feelings continues o leave scars on some participants.
The second day of the Oslo workshop was filled with laughter and was a real icebreaker in the group as everyone was tasked with taking a group photo. Creative juices started flowing as each member refused to be outdone by their peers, each coming up with their own photo composition style. The two facilitators stuck to their basic introductory lesson of “framing, focus and shoot.”
When you throw in self-timer and multiple shots options, the exercise turned into a fun filled day with theatrical and motion picture talent popping up in some of the participant’s compositions. Interactions with asylum seekers and refugees during the inaugural Visual Activism Cultural Exchange Project (VACEP) in 2015, pointed to the need for this workshop and exhibition. The exhibition opened from June 18- July 31 2016 at the Museum of Cultural History, in Oslo Norway.
The daily four-hour training sessions held at Kunstplass  provided guidance and practical training. The gallery owned by collaborators Vibeke Hermanrud and Henriette Stensdal was used to hold conversations about issues and challenges faced by some of the participants who have left their birth countries to seek some respite in Norway. The participants spoke about their daily struggles and the realisation that the grass is not always greener on the other side.
Although immigration has existed throughout the history of humankind, the reasons for migration have shifted from searching for new pastures for livestock, hunting and chasing fertile lands. The biggest reasons sustaining immigration today are natural and man-made woes. Looking at African and Middle Eastern immigrants, political freedom and escaping government persecution is responsible for many people leaving their home countries and seeking asylum. Their government’s inability or unwillingness to protect people’s human rights forces many people to make the decision to leave their homes, family and communities. Persistent homophobia and homophobic laws upheld in more than 70 countries have resulted in many Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) people seeking asylum, in more “liberal societies”. LGBTI asylum seekers are not guaranteed safety during their journey and after arriving in the new country. Harassment, exclusion, sexual violence and other forms of violence remain a reality for this vulnerable group.
While “native” citizens are often not pleased by the arrival of immigrants; this leads to racism, xenophobia and other social problems.