Do You Have Anything to Declare?

OCTOBER 14 – November 15, 2019

Do You Have Anything to Declare? is an exhibition featuring The Passport Photo Project by Vivek Vellanki. In this exhibition, Vellanki explores his interest in photography by troubling the relationship between passport photos and the identities of immigrants and refugees. Vellanki is a PhD Candidate in the College of Education at Michigan State University and holds an M.A. in Education from the Tata Institute of Social Science, Mumbai, India. 

“The history of passport photos is a history of migration. These photos are objects of bureaucracy—a physical manifestation of the state’s practice of identifying and controlling migrants through the restriction of movement, gestures, and attire. On our journeys to other lands, it is one of the first times we are told not to smile, not to look suspicious, to fall in line, to shave, to conform, to shrink.

The Passport Photo Project is a collaborative project in which I ask immigrants, refugees, and international students to share their passport photos with me. Starting with resized copies, I ask them to draw, write, collage, or otherwise transform their own photos in any way they desire. I offer one guiding question: “What do you want the world to know about you?”

Between 2018 and 2019, The Passport Photo Project brought together 50 people from various cultures, generations, and nationalities. Sitting in homes, cafés, classrooms, and libraries, my collaborators transformed the cold and bureaucratic passport photos into portraits; objects of their making that are seeping with desires, anxieties, explorations, and play. These are our stories of migration.”