A Nation Outside a Nation
Documenting Filipino labour migration, 2012–2014
Labour migration is part of the lifeblood of Filipinos around the world. Nearly 10 million people (10% of the population) have left the Philippines in search for work abroad. My partner is Filipino-American and for years I watched the small-scale migrations among his family in Southern California and the Philippines. These patterns are both visible and invisible: gifts are sent in gigantic boxes, money is returned and invested, new formations of friends and family are established in a foreign land, while Skype buzzes in the background with the sounds of home.
‘A Nation Outside a Nation’ captures these moments and movement in the Netherlands. The subjects I photograph often live in limbo—undocumented domestic workers or au pairs, who are also the targets of Dutch crackdowns on illegal immigration. Yet my photographs, following the nature of labour migration, also capture more than life in the Netherlands; networks in Dubai, Sweden, Canada or the U.S. will at one moment in time penetrate Filipino daily life in Rotterdam, Amsterdam, or Wassenaar. My project engages as well with the complexity of photographing the constant, immaterial and material realities of labour migration.
How can I capture the memories, the dreams and the flow of capital and possessions throughout the Filipino Diaspora? The balikbayan box, goods sent by Filipino migrants free of tax back to the Philippines, is an ideal symbol of my interest in the tangible and intangible experiences of labour migration. The box is more than foreign gifts and supplies; it’s an act of giving, an offering and a sign of new possibilities. In addition to traditional portraiture, landscape and still lives, (many of which include meticulous documentation of balikbayan box supplies), I photograph a variety of visual sources* and then layer the images to create a more tangible depiction of migrant life. ‘A Nation Outside A Nation’ is a documentation of labour migration, but it is also a document, an object, that unites the individual migrant with the homeland.
*Visual sources include photographs taken of my computer screen showing Google Earth images of Wassenaar, real-estate investments by the Diaspora, images sent from the inventory of the balikbayan box companies, pictures of the children in the Philippines from the diaspora who live in the Netherlands.
A Nation Outside A Nation, LhGWR, The Hague. November–December 2013