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The Invisible Man

 

The man has been living in Amsterdam for 23 years. He leads the life of a ghost, half seen, half unseen. He spent two years in prison, although he never hurt a fly. There are periods when he visits my studio every day. Over the last four years, we have seen a lot of each other, with hiatuses when I do not see him at all. He lives in different places and has many secrets. I am interested in his life. We talk a lot. I ask questions, he answers. Sometimes he gives different answers to the same questions. We drink a lot of tea. There is nothing at all about him to be pitied. But he is intangible. Who is this man? How many identities does he have? For me, he is a door to an invisible society in Amsterdam, whose existence I never knew about. Karim Ramtani leads a life that millions of other people in Europe also lead. Uprooted, hidden away. Together, with the photographs, we reconstruct an invisible life.

 

 

Notes

Michiel Voet

 

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North Amsterdam, 1993, the former NDSM shipyard complex. The place is abandoned. The closing of the once huge shipyard is still a palpable presence. An industrial site attracts a wide range of people – dropouts, artists, circus performers, refugees. One of those who move in is a clothing recycling business where illegal aliens can find work. Years later, in 2006, Rezatex goes bankrupt and closes down. The illegal men and women disappear from sight and take shelter in new, invisible layers elsewhere in the city. Bales of old clothes remain behind in the back of the huge shed, where Rezatex had been. There are ashtrays full of cigarette butts, a cassette deck with TDK cassettes. Tea glasses and a teapot. One man also stayed. He still has a spare key to the big shed. Without anyone knowing, he lives there, waiting for the space to be repurposed. His name is Mohammed. He is Algerian. He is slight, has a noble face. He hums Jacques Brel and drinks a lot of tea. He is living in the Netherlands illegally, has been for 14 years.

 

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I am in my studio. There is a knock on the door. Mohammed comes in. We drink tea. After 20 minutes, I go back to work. He remains seated, next to his tea. He reads Spits (Rush Hour), a free magazine distributed on trains, and an Arabic newspaper. He comes almost every day. He is living next to my studio in the big shed. Rezatex Clothing Recycling is still written on the door. I ask him how long he thinks he can keep hiding at Rezatex. He shrugs his shoulders. For as long as it lasts. No worries.

 

We develop a bond. I become interested in his life, and we talk a lot. They may seem like conversations, but in fact, they are interviews. I ask and he answers. If I repeat the same questions, I sometimes get different answers. Who is this man? I try to reassemble his answers into a story I can understand. I do not succeed. It becomes more and more complicated. How many different men make up this man? It is also confrontational – the indifference with which we in the Netherlands relate to illegal refugees in our country, the bureaucratic and legal quagmire in which he is stuck. For me, he becomes a door to an illegal and invisible society here in Amsterdam, whose existence I never really knew about. It is a shadow world where people live without papers, without rights, without security, an invisible society that is all around us. It is very close, this parallel world, and almost no one sees it. Not until you start to pay attention.

 

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A kind of friendship evolves, and a plan to make a series of photographs about his life. They will not be documentary photographs about an illegal existence, but photographic, theatrical stagings about alienation, being uprooted, about not belonging. And Mohammed himself will play a role. He agrees. He can use the money and it does him good to tell his stories. After we take the photographs, we look at them. Making these photographs together becomes the lubricant to our connection. As soon as we start looking at the pictures, Mohammed begins to talk. About Algiers, the Paris of North Africa. In 1992, Algeria was in the throes of civil war. He and his mother decided that he should go to Europe. He already had a cousin in Marseille. They manage to pull together €2000 to organize the trip. It is a huge amount of money, but a matter of life and death to Mohammed. The night before he leaves, his mother has a dream. She dreams that he is on a journey, and everywhere he goes, doors are opening for him.

 

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We are drinking coffee. Mohammed's telephone rings. He answers, ‘Hello, this is Karim.’ Mohammed has a brief conversation in Arabic. His name is Karim? He shows me a temporary residence permit, a couple of years out of date, an identity card that he has carried with him ever since. It no longer has any legal value. All it means is that at some point, a legal process of some kind was initiated. The name on the card is Karim Ramtani. Who is Karim Ramtani? How did he come by that name? Mohammed bought the name. There was a period in the Netherlands when people were doing a lively business selling Dutch national insurance and social security numbers. He purchased a number because he could only find temporary work if he had a number. The man he bought the number from was called Karim Ramtani. Mohammed paid him 100 Dutch guilders for it.

 

Later, Mohammed was stopped in the street by the police, so he gave them this name. An Arab dressed in recycled clothes – the police automatically did a spot check on him. He was taken to the police station. They took his thumbprint and attached it to a form. From that point on, it was a thumbprint that belonged to the file on Karim Ramtani. Mohammed has had the name Karin Ramtani ever since.

 

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Mohammed was kept in a cell for five days. Then he was put into a detention centre, a prison for illegal aliens. For four months, he lived in a cell with a Chinese and a Ghanaian. The three men could not exchange a single word with one another. They developed a language of their own. French, English and made-up words that imitated sounds, and a great deal of hand gesturing.

 

A legal process was begun for Mohammed. He was given a lawyer, whom he saw exactly once. Four months later, Karim Ramtani was allowed to leave the detention centre. He was given a pass, a three-month residency permit. From now on, he had to report in. He had no idea what address he should use. Nor did he ask. He never spoke to the lawyer again. After four months, he was simply set free. Why? He has no idea. Why was he there at all? No idea. What was he going to do now? No idea.

 

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For some people, he has become Karim. But not for everyone. Some but not others. It is in any case convenient to have two names. It causes confusion and confusion is always a good thing. The world becomes larger if you have two names. Two nationalities: Algerian and Moroccan. Two identities. It creates more opportunities and opens more doors to find work, make contacts, build up networks. Some people want to work with Algerians, others with Moroccans. You literally expand yourself as a person: you are not one man but two. 

 

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Mohammed, Mo. Why is he here? Does he have a plan? Or is he just living in the moment? How many exiles are living the way he is, in our seemingly so well-ordered, structured Holland?

 

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Mo is living in my studio. We work together. I pay him and give him a roof over his head. Mo gives me his stories. It seems like a fair deal. But what is fair? I make a casting of his face. We encase his entire head in plaster. We make a mould. In the end, we make a latex mask, an exact copy of his face. Eyes closed, lifeless skin.

 

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There is the thought that the real Karim Ramtani is still here in the city. Who will the aliens police decide is the real Karim Ramtani? For Mo, confusion is always a good thing. For that reason, he has also destroyed his passport, because that's what everyone says: destroy your passport as quickly as possible. Change your history. Make your identity unclear. Become invisible, gain time. Disappear into the bureaucratic maze of criteria, protocol and procedure, and then hope they give you a status. Look for procedural mistakes: that is where your best hope lies.

 

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The name Karim Ramtani generates more and more confusion, certainly when the aliens police pick up Mohammed again on the street. He is held in a cell just outside the centre of Amsterdam, on the Marnixstraat. After a couple of days, he is put on a bus. The bus is full of Moroccans, including illegal Moroccans from Belgium. The bus drives them to Schiphol airport. When they arrive, the men immediately have to board a plane. They fly to their home country, Morocco. Mo keeps repeating that he is Algerian, not Moroccan. They do not believe him. He has never been in Morocco in his life. In Casablanca, the men are immediately put into prison, underground. Conditions are extremely primitive, abominable. There is no toilet. Mohammed has some money with him, 500 Dutch guilders. He asks the guards to buy food for him, and cigarettes. The guards do that, but then they take custody of all of his money. After a week, Mo asks if he can call his mother. Mohammed and his mother have spoken to each other every day for the last seven years. She would be worried because their telephone calls have stopped so abruptly. The guards eventually give him permission. Then they hear from his accent in Arabic that he is in fact not Moroccan. After a long series of interrogations and interviews, it is agreed that Mohammed be allowed to return to the Netherlands. In Casablanca, they have no idea what to do with him.

 

He lands at Schiphol Airport and here he is, back in Amsterdam. After long, extended interviews, the customs officers let him go. It feels as if the wind has blown him back, back to where he belongs. Mohammed has become something of an Amsterdammer.

 

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It seems as if Mohammed has a new relationship to time. He develops a phenomenal patience, an intense tranquillity. He no longer has any short-term goals. Waiting is no longer an in-between stage. Waiting has become a state of being. There is no longer a plan. Was there ever a plan?

 

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Mo grows very thin. He has pains in his stomach. He sleeps badly. His body does not feel good. Vague complaints and symptoms. He loses more weight. After all these years, is it his Algerian-Dutch identity that no longer fits into a single body? That can no longer move in a single direction? How would that work? A man moving in two different directions at once, not totally different directions, but two different directions that minutely diverge away from one another, like wheels on a cart that are odd distances apart. What happens then? Friction in the mechanism, metal fatigue? Then slowly tearing, shearing, until something breaks.

 

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Mo telephones his mother in Algiers every day. He has done that for ten years now, for an hour every evening. It costs a fortune.

 

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Mo is picked up in the street again. He spends six days in jail, this time in North Amsterdam. He says his name is Karim Ramtani. He is asked a lot of questions, about a criminal case. Mohammed does not understand. He is not aware of any criminal case against him, certainly not anything to do with assault and theft. The policeman shoves a form in his face. It is an official document from a file on a criminal charge against Karim Ramtani. There is a thumbprint and a passport photograph, but the photograph is of another man. Mo knows the man. He is also Algerian, and he knows that this man is called Efrid. Apparently, Efrid gave the authorities the same false name as Mo.

 

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So now there are at least three Karim Ramtanis. The real Karim Ramtani is the Moroccan, whose whereabouts no one knows. Then there is Efrid, the criminal who calls himself Karim Ramtani, and finally Mohammed himself. Mo tries to explain to the police that Efrid is not the real Karim Ramtani, that his so-called name is a false name. They do not believe him. Mohammed is taken to another detention camp for illegal aliens, this time in Rotterdam. He is imprisoned for seven months. He sees a lawyer, but there is nothing happening in the case. For seven months, there are no developments whatsoever in Mohammed's prospects.

 

Mo is moved to a new prison in Zaandam, where he is put in a cell with an old Algerian man. The man is sick. One night, the old man becomes delirious and starts raving. Mohammed uses the intercom system to call the guards, but they do not come. The old man's condition quickly deteriorates. Mohammed calls again and again, but they do not come. This goes on for hours. The man eventually dies. Mo reports over the intercom that his cellmate has died. The guards still do not come. The next morning, breakfast is passed through the hatch. It is only then that the guards see that the old man is dead. In no time at all, he is removed from the cell. An hour later, Mo is told to put his things in a plastic bag. A guard comes to collect him. There is a short conversation with the superintendant. Mohammed says that the old man should never have died, that he is going to report the detention centre, the prison. Then he is led to the prison entrance. He can leave. Before he realizes it, he is suddenly standing outside the prison with his plastic bag on his arm. Mohammed walks the kilometres from Zaandam to Amsterdam. He cannot risk being on a train without a ticket, where men with Arabic complexions wearing training suits are automatically checked. He comes to my studio. His teeth are a mess. Two are missing, and he is shockingly thin.

 

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Mo sometimes does not show up in my studio for weeks. He disappears into the invisible layers of the city. How many people are out there, living like this?

 

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I arrive in my studio late one evening and go to my storage space. I turn on the fluorescent lights as I open the door, look into the space and see a leg disappear behind a pile of mattresses. A black trouser leg and a black shoe. I jump in surprise. I enter, softly. I talk to the intruder, tell him it is okay and ask him to show himself. Then I go back out again. I think about it. Actually, I am afraid. Who is this intruder? One thing I am certain of, and that it is that cannot be Mohammed. He never sleeps here, down in the storage space. He does not have a key to this space. Then I go back in. After spending an hour looking, I still can't find him. I do find a toilet bag and a plastic bag with a bottle of wine wrapped in an Arabic newspaper. The man has disappeared without a trace. There is another possibility: that he has crawled up through a split in the ceiling. I crawl up through that split myself, to the second floor of my studio. He has to be here. I search through everything. Now there is only one final possibility: the small entresol above the working space. There, in the farthest corner, I lift up an old mattress, and there he lies. A man, shaking, sweating, terrified. It is Karim Ramtani, Mohammed. This is horribly embarrassing, very, very painful. I, of all people, have hunted Mo down like an animal, in my own studio. I have humiliated him, trapping him like a thief, when Mo is certainly no thief. The shame written on his face wrenches my soul. Why is he the one who is on the run and not me?

 

We are both mortified. We sit in the kitchen. We are crestfallen, shocked. He will not look at me. When I ask him why he hid under a mattress in my studio, he looks away.

 

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I understand Mohammed less and less. His stories keep running into each other, increasingly. I cannot understand why he does not want to say when he would like to spend the night in my studio. He has the key. He is always welcome. I have clean sheets, a pillow and a sleeping bag for him, but he never uses them. He prefers the improvised entresol above the working space. Actually, it is more of a hanging cupboard, a place I seldom go. He has made himself something of a mouse hole for himself there, with an old mattress and an old blanket. Why does he prefer this vagabond entourage? This man, with an intellectual mother and a wealthy father with three wives, this man seems to have become entangled in his own different lives. It looks as though Mo is not only running from the aliens police, but increasingly from himself.

 

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Mo seems to have completely disappeared. He has not come by in months.

 

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I Google Karim Ramtani. I see a photograph of a Karim Ramtani on a yacht in the Mediterranean Sea. Wearing sunglasses. He looks Arabic. His face is unclear – the resolution is too low. Yet another Karim Ramtani? Or is this Mo?

 

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I go outside my studio to take a breath of air in the big shipbuilding shed. It is night-time. The NDSM complex is empty. I see a man walking through the shed. He climbs like a monkey up a steel ladder into one of the overhead cranes. When he gets up there, he walks across to the cabin where the crane drivers once sat. He puts something down, rapidly climbs down again and disappears through the building. I immediately recognize him. Is he living in an abandoned crane cabin now? Why does he no longer want to see me? Does he only come out at night?

 

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Mo puts €100 on my table. ‘Michiel, change the locks on your studio.' I ask myself why. He can sleep here, and cook for himself. As long as we stay in touch, I have no problem with him camping out here. ‘Michiel, do it. Is better for you, is better for me.’ He gives me a penetrating look. He is adamant. I change the locks. I do not ask why.

 

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It is time to clear out the big storage space downstairs, under my studio. I am going to rebuild. The space is packed to the ceiling with materials and stage decors. This is the space where I caught Mohammed, where our shameful, painful pursuit began. As I am clearing up, I come across traces of Mohammed everywhere. Sleeping spots like nests, bags and cigarette butts. Had he been living here for years? What has been going on in my storage space all this time? Did several other illegal refugees live here? Do they still? Was my studio a meeting place for invisible men? Was Mo the landlord here? Was this a storage place for illegal refugees? Were they carrying on business transactions here?

 

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Mohammed telephones me. We have had no contact for over a year. He is calling from Germany. He tells me that he has left Amsterdam behind him. He is now definitely focused on Germany. It is a fine country. There are opportunities. It is clean. Moreover, Mo has found a woman, and he is going to marry her. They have a beautiful daughter, and they have named her after Mohammed's mother. He has known the young German woman for a long time. She is the cousin of a German friend whom Mo has been in touch with for years. People in Germany are well off, and he likes that. He also likes his in-laws. This all sounds like a dream to me. A loving and beautiful mother-in-law. They live well. Money is no problem. There is a good atmosphere in the house. They speak French with one another. Life has taken a more definitive turn. A messy and frayed period in Amsterdam has come to a close. His move to Germany, his marriage – it all sounds like an unreal turn in his life.

 

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Mo is in Amsterdam for a couple of days, to organize things. We drink tea in my studio. I ask a lot of questions about his new life and his in-laws, but Mo does not have any photographs of his life in Germany to show me. They are all in a telephone that he left back in Germany. For me, his life in Germany is as untraceable and incomprehensible as his life here in the Netherlands.

 

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Mo has given me a glimpse of the illegal world in Amsterdam, but it is only a scratch at some outer edge. I have the feeling that I know very little about the actual reality of my city. I catch myself in the realization that I am very selective about letting in the world around me. I make very specific decisions about what I allow in and what I keep at bay, in order to make my art. Of course, my project with Mohammed has extended my perception of life in Amsterdam, but I have actually been mostly focused on the imagination that Mohammed has inspired in myself. I am not a social worker. I do not organize creative workshops for refugees. I am not interested in that. In a way, I live in a vacuum, like so many other artists. Inside that vacuum, I am primarily concerned with artistic issues. But this irritates me. This project is not about artistic issues. It is about people who have to survive like pariahs in the richest part of the world. I set out in search of more of Amsterdam's invisible residents.

 

In a roundabout way, I manage to have conversations with a number of illegal refugees and undocumented people in Amsterdam. I want to know how other invisible men and women keep themselves alive in Amsterdam. By way of a certain Abdullah, a Pakistani who has a work permit, I meet other Pakistanis in Amsterdam. I discover that there are illegal communes throughout Amsterdam, of Pakistanis, Ghanaians, Mexicans, Brazilians and other nationalities. Abdullah lives just around the corner from me. His apartment is almost empty, with a mattress on the floor, unmade. There are no cupboards, just lots and lots of boxes and plastic bags on the floor, with his clothes and books. They also contain files on the refugees Abdullah is trying to help. The apartment is suffocatingly small. Abdullah smokes heavy shag tobacco and the windows are all shut. He is wearing a training suit, a yarmulke and orange Crocs, with a towel over his shoulder. The TV is tuned to the BBC. In the corner, a man sits in a chair. He wants to tell me a story.

 

Abdullah concerns himself with several undocumented Pakistanis who live alienated lives in Amsterdam. He himself is a lively man, slightly built, a quick talker. He introduces me to the man in the chair, an illegal Pakistani called Jimmy. Jimmy lives and works in East Amsterdam. He lives with another Pakistani in a very small space in Amsterdam's so-called Indonesian neighbourhood. He works six days a week at a snack bar, from 1:00 PM to 2:00 AM. After work, Jimmy goes home and sleeps on a mattress behind a sofa in the living room. He earns €25 a day. That is €150 a week, €600 a month. Every month, he sends €250 home to his family in Pakistan. Jimmy pays €125 a month to stay in the flat. That leaves him €225 a month to live on. Jimmy cannot return to Pakistan. He would be arrested by customs officials and imprisoned for years, and Pakistani prisons are hell on earth. Another option might be to pay tens of thousands of Euros in bribes to the customs officials at the airport in Pakistan. He does not have the money, so Jimmy remains in Amsterdam, accepting his fate and his responsibility without complaint. But he is constantly stressed.

 

Jimmy has a skin disease that is exacerbated by his stress and working conditions. But he continually speaks of acceptance. This is his life. He often talks to his family on the phone. Almost every day, for years. Now it is only twice a week. After telling me this, he does not say much more. There is not much more to tell. His days are identical. The only thing he does on the telephone is listen to the voices of his family. Jimmy lives only a few hundred yards from where I live on the Domselaerstraat.

 

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I see Mo bicycling in the city, fast and in a hurry, with a black travelling bag on the luggage rack on the front of his bicycle. He does not see me. I do not call out to him. Is he here for a few days? He is living in Germany, isn't he? Or is he living in Amsterdam? In my studio?

 

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I sometimes telephone Mohammed. I am still curious about how he is doing. Most of the time he does not answer. One day I reach him. At that moment, he is in Maastricht, on a day out from Germany. He is sitting on a city square with his girlfriend and little daughter. The weather is good, and he sounds cheerful. They are only staying a couple of days.

 

The next morning, I am at my studio very early, at six o'clock. The NDSM complex is graveyard still. I walk around for a bit and enjoy the city still at rest. How awake is the invisible city at this hour? I see a man on a bike. It is  Mohammed, Karim Ramtani. Isn't he supposed to be in Maastricht? He sees me. He tells me a confused story about a sudden job for which he has to be in Amsterdam. He quickly bikes on.

 

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I come into contact with a certain Coffi, a Ghanaian who lives in the high-rise Bijlmer projects. I call him and ask if we can meet. He is an exceptionally discerning man. He speaks about how he wants to see the world in front of him. He believes deeply in the value of art. He studied at the film academy in Lyon and is now a man of international stature in the world of immigration and social development. We speak for six hours. He tells about his own life, and about the community of Ghanaians in the Bijlmer, about how profoundly shameful it is for invisible people to have to return to their country, without success, about the misery of illegal immigrants who have fled to the European continent. He speaks of the loss of self-respect, because these people continue to grasp in vain to the promises they made to their families when they left. They will never achieve the European dream. Coffi tries to convince many of these undocumented people that returning to their home countries is also an option. ‘Be strong and give it up.’ What stays with me is his advice to illegal African refugees: ‘Imitate a person from Surinam. If you look Surinamese, there is far less chance you will be picked up. Ending up in a detention centre is a disaster. That will cost you at least nine months of your life. Let your dreadlocks grow out, wear an earring, laugh a lot in public and talk loudly. Be noticed. Be a clear presence.’ Isn't this advice diametrically opposed to living a cautious, invisible life, anonymously mixing into the shadows of the masses?

 

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I drive through Germany on my way home to Amsterdam. My journey began two days ago in Liguria, Italy, where I am building a house on a mountainside. Driving towards Cologne, I think about Mohammed. I telephone him and he answers. ‘Mo, I will be in Cologne shortly. Shall we drink a cup of coffee?’ I certainly want to see him in Germany at some point. I know that I want to see his stories about Germany and the man Karim Ramtani, both alive and well, side by side. I have a secret need to see if what Mohammed has been telling is true. I am ashamed of this, and I am even more ashamed of my doubts. Where do I get the arrogance to doubt his word? Unfortunately, Mohammed is in Brussels. A pity. What is he doing in Brussels?

 

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Mo has been back to Algeria. He has seen his father. They had not seen one another for 20 years, but he is also happy to be back at home in Europe. I ask him if he would like to spend time working with me again in my studio, making new images, new photographs. But Mo is not interested. He has had enough of the photo project.

 

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The story of Karim Ramtani continues to pursue me. The theme of illegal refugees, uprooted people, still intrigues me. I ask myself if my photographs are in fact only about Karim Ramtani. What deeply hidden, invisible side of myself am I putting into these photographs? There is a strong claustrophobic weight present in the photographs. Years ago, wasn't I the one who was in therapy, so I could understand my claustrophobic fears and get them under control? At the time, I did not dare enter a tunnel, or even a supermarket. Even a small waiting room with six people was too much for me. Flying in an airplane was absolutely not an option. And what is this thing between an artist and his muse – whatever the muse may be? Is the muse merely a reflection of the soul of the artist? Or is it a mirror with two characters, one that reflects, the other transparent? A mirror that now reveals yourself, now is a window to the outside world.

 

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I am in the second-hand shop on the Distelweg in North Amsterdam. I am looking for furniture, stage props. Then I see a small Arabic man walk past. It is Mo, Mohammed, Karim Ramtani, wearing a cap and a backpack. We are both happy to see one another. I ask him once again if he would like to make a new series of photographs with me, presuming that he will again tell me that he is finished with that project. Then he says yes, we can work again, starting January 1st, 2014, for a month. But he will need a place to live, and money. We shake on it. I prepare my studio as a living space. A bed, new sheets, white pillows. I make a storyboard with new images and new stagings. Each evening, I drive through the city pulling a trailer behind my car. Everything I see amongst the rubbish put out for pickup that for me fits into the world of the invisible man gets thrown into the trailer. My studio is transformed into a storage place for discarded furniture, plants, clothing and carpets.

 

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I stage new photographs that are even more claustrophobic than the ones we had made before. They are also more aesthetic, more stylized. What was that again about aestheticizing the pain of others? Or is it that this man feels no pain and it is something else altogether that is happening here? And is he playing an ingenious game with me? Is he the one who is the real artist? Am I his muse, without knowing it? What play is it that our invisible man is performing? And what play am I performing? What performance am I playing at?

 

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I want to photograph Mo, free in the space. Hanging, floating. I suspend him, up in a rope in a trapeze suit, like a ghost. These are images about being uprooted, alienated, cut loose from anything to hold onto. They are about disorientation, but they are also images of a man who looks like an illusionist, inscrutable and intangible. I realize that I am finding this side of Mohammed, the intangible and mysterious side, more and more interesting. I have the suspicion that in his case, reality and imagination are intertwined, that someone can lead a life that is partly made up, but can experience it as if it were their real life.

 

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I have decided that I no longer want to try to understand the invisible man. This gives me distance, so I do not have to approach my work in a documentary manner. It is precisely because of the questions and the mysteries surrounding my illegal friends that my imagination takes off. This way, I am in a better position to tell a story of my own. The invisible man has become a project about surrealism. It is about the tension between fiction and reality. It is about fantasizing, about being able to make up – and make – our imaginary lives, our real lives.

 

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The month of January is nearly over. Mohammed will be leaving in a couple of days – forever. At least that is what he says. We sometimes do three stagings a day, and we talk for hours. He talks nonstop about Algeria. On my way to my studio each day, I find sofas that people are throwing away along the roadside, and I pick them up and take them with me. We cut them open. I stuff Mohammed into the sofas in impossible ways. We saw up cabinets, and Mo hides in them. I braid and weave him into mattresses. There is an aesthetic quality to these oppressive scenes.

 

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I arrive at my studio every day at nine. Mohammed has made tea and is reading the newspaper. He criticizes the world, especially America. He continues to talk about his German wife. She is blonde, intelligent and modest. He tells about the life that lies before him. About Algiers. He tells me that it has worked out, now that he has a daughter and his wife is expecting a second child. That they will be going to Algiers in his mother-in-law's car, the Mercedes Sport. That they will be officially married in Algiers, with his family present. That his European project is behind him. That it has all worked out, after 23 years. That everything has turned out well. That it has succeeded.


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