Through documenting the Moluccan diaspora, Elizar Veerman counters the silencing of a former colony community
The series, entitled You Huddle to Keep Warm, takes its name from a line in the French cult classic film, La Haine. Interacting with similar themes to its namesake, Elizar Veerman sees the project as referencing “the universal act of (self-)reclamation”.
- Olivia Hingley
- 4 August 2022
Since 2013, photographer Elizar Veerman has been documenting the boys and men that surround him. Initially, Elizar believed that this desire to depict those closest to him was merely a way of interacting with his day-to-day reality. But, before long, he realised there was another layer to his focus: “I started to become aware of the connections between all the boys and men and the ways in which they reclaimed space,” he tells It's Nice That.
Growing up in a Moluccan-Dutch neighbourhood in a village next to Rotterdam, Elizar recalls “rarely seeing Moluccan people represented in photography, both as subject and especially as makers”. Elizar adds, “most of the Moluccan people represented in photography were always stigmatised in photojournalism, and this imagery didn’t portray people as how I saw and knew them.” It was this realisation – plus a goal of rectifying this misrepresentation – that motivated Elizar to begin his touching series You Huddle to Keep Warm in 2017.
The Maluku Islands are located in the east of Indonesia. They were colonised by the Dutch in 1605, and a long legacy of exploitation and discrimination by Dutch troops followed. In 1950, Indonesia and the islands claimed independence, but the repression of Moluccan individuals continued. Elizar's family were brought to The Netherlands against their will in 1951, placed in an ex-WWII deportation camp (in which his father was born) for ‘temporary asylum’ before being moved to one of the Moluccan neighbourhoods next to Rotterdam. And, to add to the trauma, this disturbing history is still silenced in contemporary Dutch narratives and education. “As a Moluccan-Dutch maker I’m quite literally a product of this silenced colonial history, so I find it very important that it’s being represented,” Elizar states. “[The project] has played a huge part in a personal decolonisation process, which has made me more conscious of my identity.”
Exploring his intergenerational trauma and the “continuing anger” he felt throughout his childhood has been an important tool throughout You Huddle to Keep Warm. “The boys and men I portray have similar histories, and I recognise similar ways of dealing with such emotions,” the photographer says. “I can recognise myself in their histories, their aggression, their joy, their wounds, their vulnerability and their masks.” This sense of connection and intimacy with his subjects is one of the defining features of the series; throughout the images Elizar’s subjects appear calm and open, crafting a palpable honesty throughout. Not only is this rooted in the ability for the artist and subject to relate – due to shared “history, cultural behaviour and socioeconomic background” – this openness is also crafted by Elizar’s keen efforts to connect. He always tries to hang out with his subjects, and gives prints to the people he photographs. “The camera always creates a power dynamic and in the past it has been used too often to misrepresent vulnerable people,” he says. “Giving back with my work as a form of cultural capital to represent the ones I portray is the least I can do.”
This warmth and honesty is apparent in one of Elizar’s favourite photos from the series: a portrait of Mo and Yous holding each other close on the streets of Marseille, with the warm, evening sun adding a dreamlike, romantic quality to the image. He loves the piece for how it shows a “manifestation of intimate brotherhood”, which is absent in Western culture and especially in public spaces. The image also shows the visual power of affection and physical touch, while other photos are more pertinent for their personal resonance. One picture, for example, shows a man doing a wheelie on his Yamaha bike in front of the Cité building in which he was brought up. The man in the picture, named Fresh, was a key member of one of the subculture communities Elizar found himself immersed in: BikeLife. “Fresh unfortunately passed away during the project”, Elizar shares, “so the photograph of him doing what he loved most – riding his bike on the streets – has a special place in my heart.”
Elizar's work is empowering; it shines a light on the underrepresented experience of the Moluccan diaspora while also representing contemporary modes of manhood. You Huddle to Keep Warm, in this sense, is a project that proves how powerful looking to one’s own experiences can be.
Elizar Veerman: You Huddle to Keep Warm, Fresh, La Marine Bleue (Copyright © Elizar Veerman, 2022)
About the Author
Olivia joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in illustration, photography, ceramic design and platforming creativity from the north of England.