Photographer Mohamed Badarne (Palestine) and his U48 Project

15 September, 2022
Berlin’s U‑Bahn map super­im­posed with pho­tos tak­en by Mohamed Badarne who met Pales­tini­ans liv­ing in the city and asked about their home towns in Pales­tine (cour­tesy Mohamed Badarne).


Viola Shafik


Imag­ine you are look­ing at this Berlin sub­way or U‑Bahn map and you’re see­ing all these faces who are ascribed to dif­fer­ent neigh­bor­hoods of the city. Why U48? Such a num­ber does not exist in the Berlin sub­way sys­tem, it is a chimera.

The num­ber rings a bell, of course, for Pales­tini­ans. It is the year of the so-called Nak­ba; 1948 evokes the dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands of Pales­tini­ans from their homes and the destruc­tion of innu­mer­able vil­lages. And those who remained behind have come to call them­selves “ ‘48Palestinians.”

In the accom­pa­ny­ing text and U48 por­traits you read: “We, who are unable to meet each oth­ers in our home­land, here we meet eas­i­ly; me, who stems from Haifa, she, the Pales­tin­ian woman born in Berlin, and he, who was raised in the camps of Lebanon and Syria.

The sub­way line has become a map of our homeland.”


Mohamed Badarne’s U48 was pre­sent­ed in 2016 in the frame­work of “After the Last Sky,” an event orga­nized by Kul­tur­sprünge im Ball­haus Naun­yn­straße, dur­ing the group exhi­bi­tion “Ques­tion­ing the Chro­ma-Key Prin­ci­ple,” which took the cin­e­mato­graph­ic tech­nique of chro­ma key­ing (“green screen”) as the start­ing point of its inves­ti­ga­tion. It explored the “para­dox­i­cal dialec­tics of the ‘Present-Absence’, which occu­pies a piv­otal place in the Pales­tin­ian sit­u­a­tion” because, accord­ing to the orga­niz­ers, in “the Zion­ist imagery of the coun­try as a ‘land with­out peo­ple’, a so-called no-man’s‑land, the exis­tence of the Pales­tin­ian pop­u­la­tion has been negat­ed since at least 1947/1948, enabling the vio­lent rewrit­ing and occu­pa­tion of the place.”

Badarne’s pho­tographs project the com­plex car­togra­phies of exile and return and hence “inter­vened against future dis­ap­pear­ance” and can in fact “be inter­pret­ed as ‘small-scale resis­tances’ against the sta­tus quo of the dom­i­nant regime of vis­i­bil­i­ty, because they recov­er what has been for­got­ten, and uncov­er what has been buried,” as “Ques­tion­ing the Chro­ma-Key Prin­ci­ple” notes. 

Badarne, pho­tog­ra­ph­er, train­er, and human rights activist was born in the Pales­tin­ian vil­lage of Arra­ba, in the Galilee and moved to Haifa at the age of 18. He got involved in social activism as a teenag­er, vol­un­teer­ing in refugee camps and cofound­ing a human rights orga­ni­za­tion for Pales­tin­ian youth. Until 2012 he earned his liv­ing as a high school teacher and NGO work­er. Since then, after grad­u­at­ing with a degree in Pro­fes­sion­al Pho­tog­ra­phy, Bar­dane has ded­i­cat­ed his career to pho­tog­ra­phy and teach­ing pho­tog­ra­phy in NGOs, com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters, and to inde­pen­dent groups. He soon became acclaimed for his pho­to­graph­ic oeu­vre, and has received grants from sev­er­al renowned art foun­da­tions. His work has been pre­sent­ed in diverse venues, such as Darat al Funun Art Gallery in Amman, the Fusion Fes­ti­val, the Euro­pean Cen­ter for Con­sti­tu­tion­al Rights (ECCHR) in Berlin, the Inter­na­tion­al Labor Orga­ni­za­tion (ILO) in Gene­va, and the UN Head­quar­ters in New York among oth­ers. It has been includ­ed in the col­lec­tions of the Khalid Shu­man Foun­da­tion and pri­vate art col­lec­tors. As a cura­tor, he was respon­si­ble for “Peo­ple of the Sea,” the open­ing exhi­bi­tion of Qalan­dia Inter­na­tion­al art fes­ti­val in 2016.

The launch of Badarne’s career as pho­tog­ra­ph­er coin­cid­ed with his mov­ing to Berlin in 2012. What trig­gered this change of place?

Cer­tain­ly the gen­er­al lim­i­ta­tions and alien­ation which the so-called ’48 Pales­tini­ans expe­ri­ence was one of the main fac­tors, par­tic­u­lar­ly the feel­ing of being a stranger in one’s own land and the high­ly restrict­ed and min­i­mal pos­si­bil­i­ties for pro­fes­sion­al and cul­tur­al devel­op­ment and exhi­bi­tion for Pales­tin­ian artists in Israel. Mar­gin­al­iza­tion and Arab labor con­di­tions became thus one of the artist’s main con­cerns, just to name his impres­sive pho­to series “Come Back Safe­ly.” Through this series, Badarne attempts to give vis­i­bil­i­ty to Arab work­ers and their labor con­di­tions in Israel. He also includ­ed por­traits of fam­i­lies who had lost one of their mem­bers while work­ing there.

An image from Mohamed Badarne’s “Come Home Safe­ly” (cour­tesy of the artist).

Some of Badarne’s projects are of inter­na­tion­al scope, such as his African Descent about peo­ple of col­or all over the globe, Acid that beau­ti­ful­ly pic­tures female vic­tims of acid attacks in India, and most recent­ly The For­got­ten Team, a pho­tog­ra­phy exhi­bi­tion in sol­i­dar­i­ty with all 2022 FIFA World Cup workers.

Badarne’s visu­al sto­ry­telling project puts the spot­light on the lives of migrant work­ing peo­ple who have been lay­ing the ground­work for the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar. With­out them — the for­got­ten team — this mega sport event with all the new sta­di­ums, hotels, and trans­port net­works could not have tak­en place. Thou­sands of men and women from Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Nige­ria, Pak­istan, and oth­er places set out to make a bet­ter liv­ing, but they have encoun­tered harsh work­ing con­di­tions and even death. Thus, over five years, between 2017 and 2022, Badarne vis­it­ed Qatar and Nepal sev­er­al times to meet with work­ers and their fam­i­lies, and to cap­ture their sto­ries and the injus­tice they suf­fered. It shows them in Qatar – at work and in their pri­vate space – and after their return home. It also por­trays fam­i­lies whose loved ones died there, as well as local ini­tia­tives that seek account­abil­i­ty and compensation.


Arab laborFIFAforeign labor QatarhomelandIsraellabor conditionsNakba 1948Palestinephotography

Viola Shafik is a filmmaker, curator and film scholar. She is the author of Arab Cinema: History and Cultural Identity1998/2016 (AUC Press), Popular Egyptian Cinema: Gender, Class and Nation (AUC Press 2007), Resistance, Dissidence, Revolution: Documentary Film Aesthetics in the Middle East and North Africa (forthcoming from Routledge, 2023) and the editor of Documentary Filmmaking in the Middle East and North Africa (AUC Press 2022). She has taught at the American University in Cairo, Zurich University, Humboldt University and Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich where she held the position of a researcher 2016-2020. She served as the Head of Studies of the Documentary Campus MENA Program 2011-2013, curator and consultant for numerous international film festivals and film funds, such as La Biennale di Venezia, the Berlinale, Dubai Film Market, Rawi Screen Writers Lab, Torino Film Lab and the World Cinema Fund. She directed several documentaries, among others The Lemon Tree/Shajarat al-laymun (1993), Planting of Girls/Mawsim zaraa al-banat (1999), Jannat `Ali-Ali im Paradies/My Name is not Ali (2011) and Arij - Scent of Revolution (2014). Current works in progress are Home Movie on Location and Der Gott in Stücken. Viola Shafik is the guest editor of TMR's BERLIN issue.


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