The “Diaspora” series highlights the importance of African settlers in Europe throughout history and in the present day. With these portraits of African immigrants, I wanted to show their dignity, richness, beauty and strength as well as remind viewers of the important contributions that Africans have made in European history.

The work references the art of the Orientalist movement and is inspired by the watercolor paintings of Josep Tapiro Baro in Tangier, Morocco. For centuries the West has often gazed at Africa and looked through a lens that distorts the reality of the continent’s people and its history. Even with the current surge of African immigrants in the West, preconceived notions and stereotypes often remain; they are fueled by a lack of knowledge, understanding, and fear of the unknown.

My husband, who was born in Zimbabwe, experienced this when we moved from the African continent to the Netherlands nine years ago. His experience sparked my interest in how African people live in places around the world. Specifically, I was inspired by a trip we took to Tarifa, Spain, where I witnessed my husband’s experiences in a country different than his own. This became the basis for my line of inquiry, which interrogates how African people have been presented throughout history. It is my hope that by viewing this series, people are inspired to change their views, the way they see the world, and each other.

These portraits may appear exotic because of the aesthetics, but the purpose is tied to the context in which they were created—specifically, the process of “othering.”

The first three portraits in “Diaspora” feature Adam, Muna and Ninho. My aim with this work is to portray real people—for example, Adam is my husband. I prefer to use non-professional models and their personal stories, as these stories entwined and intertwined within the photo story I seek to convey. My hope is that my viewers feel connected to the images as a result.

For this series, I fabricated the clothes myself out of rags and textiles, mixing them with antique original pieces. No makeup was used, and I worked in daylight only. The images were enhanced in post-production. All three of my subjects are composed in a way that emphasizes a pyramidal shape: to me, this shape refers to the ancient past and the origins of Africa.

—Dagmar van Weeghel

Ninho © Dagmar van Weeghel

The name “Ninho” comes from a Portuguese name: “Maninho.” It means “little brother.” This name is used in Angola as a result of Angola’s colonial history. The Ninho pictured above is from Angola; he moved to the Netherlands ten years ago. Ninho and I met through social media—he responded to a request I put out for models.

Muna © Dagmar van Weeghel

“Muna” means “wishes” or “desires” in Arabic. She is from Somalia, where her name is common. Muna is 18 years old and moved to the Netherlands 8 years ago with her mother and sister. I spend a lot of time searching for people to photograph—it isn’t easy. Many people who have recently arrived in Europe have fresh traumas from the journey. It is especially difficult to photograph Muslim women, as many of them adhere to strict traditional values and do not want to be photographed.

Adam © Dagmar van Weeghel

“Adam” is the Hebrew word for “man.” It’s possible that the word derived from the Hebrew word אדם (‘adam), meaning “to be red,” a reference to the ruddy color of human skin. It could also come from the Akkadian word “adamu,” meaning “to make.” According to the Book of Genesis, Adam was created from the earth by God. (There is another bit of wordplay on the Hebrew אֲדָמָה (‘adamah), which means “earth.”)

Adam is from Zimbabwe. He is my husband. He moved to the Netherlands 9 years ago.

Editor’s Note: The image “Muna” was a finalist in the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017—don’t miss the work from all 44 of the outstanding, international talents! You can follow Van Weeghel’s work on her personal website and Facebook. After the Portrait Awards, Van Weeghel’s work was feature in Vogue Italia. You can read the full interview here.