Upon entering the Make Your Own Passport workshop hosted in the Student Union by visiting artist-in-residence from the Visual Art Center on campus, Tintin Wulia, I did not know what to expect. At the beginning of the workshop, all participants were required to draw an assigned country from a jar. This process is intentionally designed to be very similar to reality in the sense that no one has control over the determination of original citizenship.
As I sat decorating, sewing, and gluing my passport, those around me that drew “Stateless” from the residency-determining jar read the real-life stories of individuals that faced this reality. Their stories added to my knowledge of the complexity and diversity as well as the lack of accessibility and ever-present discrimination that lie behind citizenship.
Truthfully, going into the workshop the only things that I knew about Yemen were its geographic location and its capital city. The process involved me learning much more about the struggles it has faced as a country, and many it continues to face to this day. Wulia’s workshop was carefully curated to provoke its participants to consider the privilege they have in their birth-right residency, as well as the disadvantages that so many world citizens face at no fault of their own.
Image 1: My handmade Southern Yemeni passport’s cover.
Image 2: Wulia’s instructions for experiencing her workshop:
“Make Your Own Passport (Tintin Wulia, since 2014)
Welcome to Make Your Own Passport.
As a participant in this art project, you are guided to make a personalised passport from templates created by the artist, modelled on passport [sic] from real countries, assigned to you by chance. While you make your passport, other participants around you are also making theirs.
Some participants, however, are stateless, also by chance. They don’t get to make their own passport, but will get a story about a stateless person, which you can also listen to.
Once completed, your personalised passport is yours to keep, as a momento of our conversations. Other participants will also keep their passports with them.
The aim of this project is to continue building spaec for conversations around citizenship/statelessness, borders, and migration.
Thank you for taking part in this project.
Since 2018, Make Your Own Passport is also part of The Passport Chain.”
Image 3: From Amnesty International’s country profile of Yemen as of October 25, 2018:
“All parties to the continuing armed conflict committed war crimes and other serious violations of international law, with inadequate accountability measures in place to ensure justice and reparation to victims. The Saudi Arabia-lead coalition supporting the internationally recognized Yemeni government continued to bomb civilian infrastructure and carried out indiscriminate attacks, killing and injuring civilians. The Huthi-Saleh forces indiscriminately shelled civilian residential areas in Ta’iz city and fired artillery indiscriminately across the border into Saudi Arabia, killing and injuring civilians. The Yemeni government, Huthi-Saleh forces and Yemeni forces aligned to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) engaged in illegal detention practices including enforced disappearance and torture and other ill-treatment. Women and girls continued to face entrenched discrimination and other abuses, including forced and early marraige and domestic violence. The death penalty remained in force; no information was publicly available on death sentences or executions.
Global passport power rank 2018: 86″
(Disclaimer: all passports from the workshop are in the form that they would have been during World War II as a part of Wulia’s intentional design of the workshop. South Yemen no longer exists as its own entity. That is why there is a discrepancy between the cover’s country name and the Amnesty International country description.)