His father was a cartographer, and the family lived in Africa during Ackermann’s childhood—Ethiopia, Chad and Algeria. “I have beautiful memories,” he says. “But of course it was an unstable life. Even today, if I’m too much in one place I want to move and go on the road again.” His wanderings affect his work subliminally. “Even in India,” he says, “I never take pictures. I absorb things and try to remember them. If they stay in my mind, then it’s meant to be.”
In Africa, he studied ballet and dreamed of becoming a dancer. When he was 11, his family relocated to a small Dutch town, where his passion for dance waned. “In Africa, we were dancing in a T-shirt and bare feet,” he says. “I went to Holland, and there were all of these girls with blonde hair and tutus. I didn’t speak the language and was the only dark-skinned person and the only boy.”
He learned Dutch (he also speaks French, German and English) but felt like an outsider. “I was silent,” he says. “I wasn’t the person I wanted to be. We lived in a bourgeois area. I tried to be like the others and wasn’t myself. It was difficult to come to school in Holland with my skin color. I was always dreaming of escape."