Photography artists contemplate notion of missing and absence in collaboration with ICMP

By Saša Kulukčija

The Hague, 15 May 2020: Artists play a crucial role in society by casting light on difficult topics, such as that of missing persons, Kathryne Bomberger, the Director-General of the International Commission on Missing Persons, said during the May 15, 2020, online launch of a virtual publication that collect the works of 13 photography students from the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague.

The works, collectively titled Parts Unknown, were created in collaboration with ICMP and Creative Court, a Hague-based organization that works at the interface of art and global justice. Under their guidance, the students visited the ICMP headquarters, including its DNA laboratory that analyses samples from missing persons and family members, and held discussions with ICMP experts to inspire the development of their concepts. They then created individual pieces of art that revolve around the notion of missing and absence: What happens when someone never comes home? When they disappear without a trace?

The artists, all pursuing Master in Photography and Society Degrees, explored the topic from personal angles, with Thana Faroq of Yemen sharing images from her virtual tea drinking sessions with her mother, whom she hasn’t seen since leaving her war-torn home country in 2015; Xaver Könneker of Germany and the Netherlands exploring the link between smiles on photos and the use of forensic odontology to identify human remains, and Jana Romanova of Russia focusing her piece on the remnants of torn-apart photos that form her family’s archive.

“The art is incredibly touching. The pieces all speak to the common human experience we all share: the issue of missing persons is one that we can all relate to. The artists from around the world were able to portray vividly and poignantly the universal nature of this issue,” Bomberger said. “Artists and human rights activists play a crucial role in raising awareness about the global challenge of missing persons, thereby pushing authorities to take action.”

The topic of the project was prompted by Creative Court. The title of the online publication, Parts Unknown, is multi-layered, the artists said in the launch invitation: it “can refer to an unknown destination, or the places of missing people, yearning to be found. In the context of forensics, it conjures images of unknown parts of bodies disfigured by acts of violence – parts that people of the ICMP deal with every day.”

The online launch was attended by 200 participants based in more than 30 countries.