What does it mean to belong when you aren’t able to touch the soil of the country you were born in? And how do our identities shape our feelings of home or connection to a place? In the 8th edition of Amsterdam Stories we explore these themes based on the collaborative multimedia storytelling series ‘I Went on a Holiday to the Country You Fled From’. The idea for this creative collaboration started with a friendship between Iris Haverkamp Begemann (photographer) and Alejandra Ortiz (writer and activist). Their friendship triggered a conversation about parallels in their day-to-day lives in Amsterdam but also exposed the harsh contrast in their lived experiences. Using the inherent privilege Iris embodies as a Dutch cis-gender white woman, she travelled to Alejandra’s hometown in Mexico to document the place Alejandra, a Mexican transgender woman of color, left behind in an attempt to escape violence. Join us for this dialogue about a journey and a photography series to expose a juxtaposition of experience and personal freedom.
More about ‘I Went on a Holiday to the Country You Fled From’
“You can be my ears and my eyes, basically you’ll be touching the same earth, breathing the same air that I breathed when I was little.”
Guided by these words spoken by Mexican author and transwoman Alejandra Ortiz, Dutch cis-gender documentary photographer Iris Haverkamp Begemann went on a holiday to the country Alejandra fled from—Mexico. After forming a unique friendship based on mutual trust and understanding, their connection sparked this communal multimedia project in 2021. Led by Alejandra’s instructions and hand-printed maps drawn from memory, Iris travelled to Mexico to visit meaningful locations from Alejandra’s childhood. The map guides Iris to places where Alejandra felt both loved and cared for, but also extremely unsafe, marginalised and rejected by her own family. Shown alongside Alejandra’s personal messages and childhood stories, Iris’s photo series presents a visual diary capturing Alejandra’s memories of a birthplace she had to leave behind and to which she cannot return.
Mexico is often thought of as a vacation paradise, but it’s also been acknowledged as one of the world’s deadliest countries for transgender people. Alejandra fled to the Netherlands in search of safety seven years ago, but her residence permit has been recurrently denied by the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service (IND) which deems Mexico to be a safe country. Alejandra has found a safe haven in her chosen family in the Netherlands, building a community with other trans-refugees from Latin America, but as long as she is left waiting for her residence permit, she cannot truly be herself and live freely.
Making use of the privilege Iris’s identity as a straight, white, European, cis-woman provides, the duo hopes to expose the shortcomings of Dutch migration policies—where nuance might save someone’s life. I Went on a Holiday to the Country You Fled From investigates and aspires to shed light on how our identity can determine the trajectory of our lives—our independence, our capacity for self-expression and even the extent of our freedoms.
More about the speakers
Photographer Iris Haverkamp Begemann is fascinated by the relationships which human beings establish with each other and their environment to find order in the world we live in. With her camera, Iris explores the powerful influence of socially constructed realities. Adventurous and driven by a desire to question this reality, she has photographed several personal projects. She aims to create images that empower her subjects and create projects over extended periods of time, allowing for engaged and nuanced representations. There is a deliberate and intimate process involved when using a medium format analog camera, and it gives Iris the time to establish meaningful connections with her models. The results are intimate portraiture and documentary essays in which she explores notions of picture-making as an act of collaboration.
Alejandra Ortiz, writer, and grassroots activist. A transwoman with a history of marginalization and violence. Her history includes sex work, use of drugs, and having a refugee and undocumented migrant experience amongst other intersections. Living in the Netherlands since 2015. Alejandra devotes her activism to the visibility of empowerment of marginalized communities. Her book ‘De waarheid zal me bevrijden’ has been published by Lebowski Publishers.
About the moderator
Ada M. Patterson is an artist and writer based between Barbados, London and Rotterdam. She works with masquerade, music, performance, poetry, textiles and video, looking at how storytelling can make identity formation both possible and impossible. Her recent work considers the connections between transformation, crisis, grief, rage, disappearance, discretion, self-defence and survival. Recent exhibitions include Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s – Now at Tate Britain, London and The Whole World is Turning at TENT, Rotterdam. Her writing has featured in Metropolis M and Caribbean Quarterly.