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IPA Photographer of the Year 2016

Winner LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017
Susan White, Photography Director Vanity Fair Magazine on my LensCulture Portrait Awards winning series 'My Stealthy Freedom - Iran':

"By combining social and political commentary with aesthetics in her series, 'My Stealthy Freedom,' Marinka Masséus makes a statement about women’s rights, specifically in relation to the forced wearing of hijabs, chadors and burkas. With her images, Masséus addresses a woman’s right to choose whether to be “seen” or not. Wearing colorful, airy fabrics that seem to resist gravity, the sitters might belie the actual burden of wearing such garb. Instead, what is revealed is a bit of the wearer’s personality. We may not be able to see their faces but we can feel the force of their spirits. The hijab can be a state of mind as well as a state of dress and, for me, these portraits speak to a growing resistance toward repressive control, sartorial or otherwise."

 

 | My Stealthy Freedom Iran | © 2017

- LensCulture Portrait Awards 2017, Winner Juror's Pick

This project reflects on forced hijab, the much hated symbol of oppression for the majority of Iranian women.

Every day, Iranians, especially the women, defy the regime courageously by small acts of defiance. By wearing the hijab too low, the colors too bright, the pants too tight or the manteau too short. Together these constant acts of bravery are affecting change, slowly but visibly evolving. The regime responds to this with regular crack-downs - when women are arrested and harassed - and by creating new laws, like the recent ban for women to ride a bicycle.

With the windows of my Tehran apartment covered with tinfoil so that the flash would not be visible from outside, we were safe to create and let creativity flow. The women threw their brightly colored hijab in the air and while it inescapably floated back to them, I captured this act of defiance. 

 


 | Silent Voices - L(G)BT Iran | © 2017

This series reflects on the vulnerable and dangerous circumstances of lesbian women in Iran and is the result of brave LGBT+ women willing to work with me to raise awareness despite the risk for their personal safety. The courage of these strong women is truly inspirational and it was such a pleasure to meet them and work with them and I am sad that we will never meet or speak again in order to protect their identities. Their true selves have to stay hidden. Their hopes and dreams unexpressed and shamed by society. Their love life a risk to their freedom.

The situation of lesbian rights in Iran is particularly complex, since Iranian lesbians face double discrimination - first as women and then as lesbians. Many girls are desperately fighting to escape forced marriage (since under Sharia law, they are required to have a male guardian to be able to study, get a job, rent apartments, be operated on in hospitals etc.) or are trying to survive the wifely obligations expected of her, having no choice but to put up with constant marital rape (which is not a crime in Iran).

Even though mosaheqeh, or the rubbing of female genitalia between two or more women, is punishable under Iranian law by flogging of 100 lashes and can lead to imprisonment, abuse and even torture, the lesbian women I’ve met in Iran shared with me that they are more afraid of their families than of the government. This fact is also reflected in the report of OutRight International. The constant fear of being disowned, rejected and/or assaulted by their families often leads to depression, drug abuse and suicide attempts.

The fact that many Iranian lesbians “go underground” and lead secret lives out of fear, has given rise to a common misperception that Iranian lesbians are few in number, or they are not discriminated against and do not face serious challenges and risks, including to their health and well-being. Because of these misconceptions, lesbian women in Iran are not receiving the (international) support their situation deserves.

 

   | Ancient Rhythm II | © 2015

- Winner 2nd place IPA International Photography Awards 2016
- Honorable Mention Px3 - Prix de la Photographie 2016
- Honorable Mention TIFA Tokyo 2016

At the World Indigenous Games 2015 in Brazil, I used long shutter speed to capture the indigenous energy - to paint the athlete’s ancient rhythm. The resulting soft images connect us to our roots, to the old drawings in caves dating back to prehistoric times - universal and fundamentally innate to all of us.

But, the hazy imagery is also a metaphor for the fact that indigenous people are fading.

Everywhere, so-called 'civilization' is closing in on them, stripping them off their land, their food and their way of life.

Their land is being taken, their rights trampled, their way of life is being destroyed and they are being captured and killed. For land, for money, for power, for greed.

They are the only humans left on earth who live like our ancestors thousands of years ago. Living off the land, leaving no footprint, in harmony with their environment and with respect to all living things. And they are being annihilated.

I feel that this is one of the most shameful injustices of our times. Future history books will judge the fact that we stood by and did nothing.


  Under the Same Sun | © 2016

- IPA Photographer of the Year 2016 - Lucie Award
- IPA 'People Photographer of the Year' 2016
- Winner 1st place IPA 2016 - People
- Winner 2nd place IPA 2016 - Political
- Silver winner Px3 - Prix de la Photographie 2016
- Featured at Px3 exhibition 2016 in Paris
- Color Awards 'Photographer of the Year' 2nd place
- Winner first place International Color Awards
- Silver and Bronze winner TIFA Tokyo 2016
- Silver winner ND Awards 2016
- Editors'Pick on LensCulture
- Instagram takeover Fotografiska, Swedish Museum of Photography
German news program Tagesschau, feature on albinism in Africa
Interview Pf Magazine (Dutch)
- Feature on Idaba, South Africa
Publication in newspaper El País Semanal, Spain
- Publication in Magazine European Photography
- United Nations Human Rights, Geneva 

This photo series was created in collaboration with the Josephat Torner Foundation and ‘Stichting Afrikaanse Albino's’ to raise awareness about the circumstances of people with albinism living in Africa, specifically Tanzania.

In Tanzania, when you have albinism, you are thought to be evil. There even is a price on the head of children with albinism since killing a person with albinism is considered to bring good luck. The fears and superstitions surrounding albinism run very deep in Tanzanian society. So deep that many women who give birth to a child with albinism are told to kill the baby at birth. If she refuses, she and the baby will become outcasts. 

Many children with albinism are denied the most fundamental human rights. They are despised and taught that they are evil, that their existence is a curse. They live in constant fear of brutal attacks.

Many of those who have been attacked are young children. In December of 2014, a 4 year-old girl with albinism named Pendo Emmanuelle, was taken from her mother’s arms. Police have yet to find her body. In February 2015, Yohana Bahati, a boy of just 18 months, was taken from his home, his mother’s face slashed with machetes as she tried to protect her son. She narrowly survived. Days later, little Yohana’s body was recovered from a forest, where he was found face down in the mud with his arms and legs hacked off.

Because of killings like this, many children with albinism now live in camps. Rejected by and cut-off from their families, they live separate from society in order to keep them safe. In some of the camps the living circumstances are horrible, with even basic care lacking. And this separation doesn’t solve the problems. It doesn’t help with integration. It doesn’t give them a chance to grow into valued and respected members of society. They are secluded, kept apart, hidden, often mistreated and shamed. That’s why the mission of the Josephat Torner Foundation is social acceptance and inclusion.

Besides the superstitions, PWA in Tanzania face another threat. Their skin and eyes are without any pigmentation, which means that they have no natural protection against the harsh African sun. This lack of melanin results in severe burns, every day over and over again, which in time turn to brown spots (usually in the face) and in the long run to skin cancer. Dedicated organizations are working hard to get sunscreen to Africa to help protect PWA - organizations like “Under the Same Sun” in Canada or “Stichting Afrikaanse Albino’s” and “Stichting Inside the Same” in the Netherlands. They need all the support they can get.

 

 | Silent Voices IV |  © 2016

  Ongoing series on gender inequality

 - Silver and Bronze winner TIFA Tokyo 2016
 - Honorable Mention Px3 - Prix de la Photographie 2016
 - Honorable Mention IPA International Photography Awards 2016
 - Full feature on Kaltblut Magazine
 - Full feature print edition Dodho Magazine
 - Full Feature on FotoRoom / Fotografia Magazine
 - Exhibition at Gallery Beeldend Gesproken, Amsterdam
 - Exhibition at Gallery Atelier Allen, Munich, Germany
 - LifeFramer Editors'Pick - Humans of the World

In the ongoing photo series 'Silent Voices' I symbolically draw attention to gender inequality. Gender inequality is still one of the most systemic inequalities in the world. That fact is true for every culture, race or religion. 

Whether it is the gender pay gap, domestic violence, honor killings, genital mutilation or the stoning of rape victims, there is still a lot of work to be done. Everywhere.

In Russia and Pakistan, new laws will legally allow a husband to physically abuse his wife by hitting her. Recently, ISIS burnt 19 girls to death for refusing to have sex with the fighters. With prevalence rates as high as 91% in Egypt, 98% in Somalia and 96% in Guinea, female genital mutilation affects up to 140 million women and girls. The recent honor killing of Quandeel Baloch, a Pakistani social media celebrity, only scratches the surface with over 500 honor killings per year in Pakistan alone.

And although in many countries it seems we have reached equality, recent events have shown that that might be a thin layer of veneer. The rise in sexual assaults has given birth to the worrying term rape-culture and has uncovered a deep underbelly of disrespect to women’s bodies. The lenient sentencing of a Stanford rapist went viral “a long sentence would influence his bright future”. In Brazil, a 16 year-old girl was drugged and while unconscious was raped by 31 men, who posted videos online of the rape. “She had done drugs before and had sex before, so what’s the problem”

In the meantime, girls everywhere are told to behave modestly as to avoid trouble. To walk the line. The subliminal message being that molestation and rape is their responsibility. It is not.

These facts and many more, show that the struggle for equality is far from over.

Or in the words of former US president Jimmy Carter:

"There is a pervasive denial of equal rights to women, more than half of all human beings, and this discrimination results in tangible harm to all of us. It is the worst and most unaddressed human rights violation on Earth.”

There are still a lot of silent voices. My wish is that they will all be heard. 

 

  | Silent Voices - Bodies |  © 2016

 Project on body image and self image

  - Exhibition at Gallery Atelier Alen, Munich, Germany
  - Honorable Mention ND Awards 2016
  - Honorable Mention Tokyo Int'l Foto Awards 2016

‘Silent Voices – Bodies’ is a series of nudes with real women and real bodies to show how beautiful they are. As part of the project, I ask them to write a short text about how they feel about their bodies. It is often heartbreaking to read it. How women are made to feel, even at a very young age, that their bodies aren’t beautiful but something to be ashamed of.

A woman's relationship with her body is constantly influenced by outside forces. The constant stream of photoshopped and unattainable images combined with the cultural emphasis on beauty as a woman's worth, deeply affect women's body image and self worth.

Recent studies in the US show that 78% of 17 year old girls are unhappy with their physical appearance. Social media combined with the aforementioned stream of images are mayor contributing factors.

This series reflects on a woman's desire to be seen, inseparably coupled with her simultaneous impulse to hide herself.