‘The Disappeared’ is a collaborative art project with human rights organisation AFAPREDESA (Association of Relatives of Saharawi Prisoners and Disappeared) and Saharawi refugees in Tindouf refugee camp, Algeria. The camp, located in the Sahara Desert, is the second oldest refugee camp in the world and home to almost 250,000 Saharawi refugees. A feature of the Western Sahara conflict has been the forced disappearances of over 30,000 civilians.

The project involved creating portraits of the disappeared people on the palms of hands using henna – a natural plant dye for the skin. The work was made in collaboration with Saharawi henna artist, Senia Babr, incorporating traditional Saharawi designs. The personal stories of the disappeared people were recorded from family members who lived in the camps. The work unfolded as a performance; while the henna design was applied by the artists to the hand, the story of the disappeared person was told to the person receiving the design. They were then asked to pass the story onto another individual before the image fades from their hands. Henna typically lasts two to three weeks on the skin.

The second part of the project involved making henna art kits, which included: henna; stencils of disappeared people, incorporating traditional Saharawi designs; stories of the disappeared people; and information on the history the Western Sahara conflict. The idea was that the kits would be distributed to international human rights organisations and cultural institutions, so the work has the potential to be reactivated in different locations around the world – whether in cultural, political or human rights events, or in people’s own homes.