Photographer Maureen Drennan has always been drawn to investigating communities and individuals in states of isolation and vulnerability: ice-fishers in the midwestern United States, the community of people living in Broad Channel, Queens and even her husband’s struggle with depression. Her newest body of work brought her to the Netherlands, where she began investigating the lives of Syrian refugees who have resettled in Europe.
What brought you to the Netherlands this summer to start this project?
This summer I was honored to receive an artist residency through Foundation Obras in the Netherlands. The residency was in a small town called Renkum in the Gelderland region of the Netherlands. My husband and I applied in 2015 and so we have been planning the trip for over a year. He is a painter and I’m a photographer so we were both fortunate to be able to work on our art for three weeks.
What was it about the stories of these recent Syrian refugees that was interesting to you? I was inspired to seek out recent Syrian refugees because I wanted to hear their stories individually. I wanted to hear first hand what it was like to have to leave your home and your family, travel across vast and often dangerous distances, and then live in a strange land. I was wondering what it was like for them now in this new country, trying to start a new life. You read and see on the news a particular portrait of refugees and the global refugee crisis. They are experiencing this tragedy and it is important for the media to tell that story. But there are so many stories to be explored. I am interested in the personal. I wanted to meet them, befriend them, see where they live, and how they might spend an afternoon. These are people who experienced a catastrophe and the fact that they are Syrian refugees is only one aspect of what defines them. After spending some time with Fadi, Nabeel, Sherin, and Razan the overarching theme that appeared was that they were waiting and in a transitional place. Waiting for a permit, waiting to start school to learn Dutch, waiting to get a job, and essentially start a new life in a new country. I wondered what it would be like to be in this limbo for months or years. Two of the people I photographed have been waiting over a year to get a permit. Once they acquire a permit, they can work legally in the Netherlands. A permit also allows them to apply for a “reunion” to get their parents to fly from Syria to the Netherlands. They are worried about their families in Syria and want to get them to a safer country as soon as possible.
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