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Five Photographers Present Journeys Toward Freedom, Safety, and Self-Determination

  • Young woman in pink
    Farida Ado, 27, a romance novelist living in northern Nigeria, is pictured at her window in April 2014. She’s one of a small but significant group of Nigerian women writing books called Littattafan soyayya, Hausa for “love literature.” © Glenna Gordon
  • Bound novels
    Books are tied and packaged at the local market in Kano, Nigeria, in October 2013. © Glenna Gordon
  • Recorded disk refuse
    The sleeve of a record by Zozo Sapountzaki, a well-known Greek actress and performer also called “the queen of Athenian nightlife,” is found alongside other paraphernalia at the abandoned compound of Columbia Records in Athens, Greece, in September 2010. Until it closed in 1991, it was the leading Greek record company. Most of the country’s big performing artists were signed to the label, and during the 1970s, many Arab musicians from Egypt and other parts of the Middle East used the studios for recording. © Dionysis Kouris
  • Man on stairs in abandoned building
    Sofian, a migrant from Algeria, sits inside the deserted building of Columbia Records in Athens in September 2010. Sofian lived in the building for six months, eventually returning to his homeland after his efforts to reach France were unsuccessful. © Dionysis Kouris
  • Man looking at his phone
    Thirty minutes from the Syria–Lebanon border, 16 refugee families from Homs, Syria, live in tents erected inside an abandoned slaughterhouse in Akkar, Lebanon, July 2013. At night, they text friends and family still under siege. © Liam Maloney
  • Text message
    The text, translated from the original Arabic, shows actual messages sent between a refugee in Lebanon and a loved one still trapped in Syria, July 2013. © Liam Maloney
  • Building at night
    A building sits on Magnolia Plantation by the Cane River in Louisiana. © Jeanine Michna-Bales
  • Trees at night
    Trees stand near the banks of the Ohio River, outside Madison, Indiana, 2014. © Jeanine Michna-Bales
  • Woman holding a dove
    When Mohona, 29, turned 10 years old, her father locked her up for three years to hide her feminine nature from the world. After breaking free and eloping, she eventually ended up in Delhi, India. She has freedom now, but it cost her a place within her family home in Bangladesh. © Shahria Sharmin
  • Two women laughing
    Both ostracized from their families, Shumi and Priya forge a new life that is bound by the rules of a guru—a leader in the informal market for whom they work and perform as entertainers in order to earn money—in exchange for an accepting home and community. © Shahria Sharmin

Following the wave of energy generated by the Moving Walls 22 / Watching You, Watching Me exhibition, which will begin a tour through Europe later this year, we are looking toward our next project. We are thrilled to announce that we have selected the photographers for our next group exhibition, Moving Walls 23, opening at the Open Society Foundations in New York in October 2015.

For the 23rd installment of the Moving Walls exhibition series, we received a record number of submissions through our open-call process, in which we heard from nearly 500 photographers globally. After careful deliberation by the Documentary Photography Project, curators Susan Meiselas and Stuart Alexander, and select Open Society staff, we are pleased to share the selection of five inspiring bodies of work.

Among the varied stories they tell, a unifying line of connection emerges. Whether it is the written creation of fantasy from reality, the formidable journey to escape slavery, or the dissonance between body and soul, each of these projects highlights the spaces—both physical and psychological—inhabited by people pursuing freedom, safety, and self-determination.

The five artists and projects selected are as follows:

  • Glenna Gordon, Sin Is a Puppy that Follows You Home: Romance Novelists in Northern Nigeria. Gordon presents an intimate view of a small but significant group of Northern Nigerian women who write romance novels, and whose outspoken and at times subversive stories speak to ideas of escape and fantasy amid the reality of conflict within and outside their homes.
  • Dionysis Kouris, Transit in Columbia Athens. Kouris depicts North African migrants living in limbo inside the once preeminent, now abandoned Columbia Records building in Athens, Greece.
  • Liam Maloney, Texting Syria. Maloney features imagery from an abandoned slaughterhouse in Akkar, Lebanon, where 16 Syrian families seek refuge from conflict, shown alongside text messages they send to their loved ones, who are under siege in Homs.
  • Jeanine Michna-Bales, Through Darkness to Light: Seeking Freedom on the Underground Railroad. From the cotton plantations just south of Natchitoches, Louisiana, all the way north to the United States–Canadian border, Michna-Bales imagines what the long road to escape slavery and reach freedom may have looked like through the eyes of those who made the journey.
  • Shahria Sharmin, Call Me Heena. Sharmin’s portrait series on Bangladeshi hijras—who identify as either “third gender” or transgender women—is a poetic reflection on their hopes and dreams as they navigate their lives in Bangladesh and India.

Moving Walls 23 will be open to the public at the Open Society Foundations in New York starting October 22, 2015.

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