The short film and participatory photo project was part of a residency, I completed at Jiwar, Creation and Society based in Gracia, Barcelona, funded by The Africa Centre and the Spanish Embassy of South Africa. I focus my artistic practice on memory, place, and home making with a strong focus on migration. Spending the past five weeks in Barcelona I forged a small path through the city, and made this film: I am intrigued by how people who are a minority, such as African “migrants” in Barcelona, navigate the city. What is their experience of it? What happens after one survives the treacherous crossing by boat or how has the experience changed after living here for twenty years, like Xumo Nunjo who works as a musician/artist.

How does one hold on to a deeply rooted sense of self, a cultural identity, and make new paths whereby lines of ethnicity, race, and nationality begin to shift and become malleable in order to adapt and make new forms of home? Armed with a complex position, a great deal of curiosity, and a wealth of questions, this project needed to be multi-layered. Thus Vecinos is a multidisciplinary project. I worked in different modes: from documentary portraiture to participatory photography, whereby people took pictures on disposable cameras of what they wanted to show of Barcelona in terms of their experience of navigating and negotiating the city, thus “neighbourhood making”.

Vecinos - Making Neighbourhood


‘Making Neighborhood’ was first proposed by the South African photographer and filmmaker Sydelle Willow Smith as a multidisciplinary project with the city of Barcelona’s African immigrant population, with support from the Africa Centre and the Spanish Embassy in South Africa and Jiwar Residency in Gracia. Joining Smith was Thomas Strickland, a Montreal-based architect, art historian, and curator who, in conjunction with the Catalan Association for the Integration of Homosexual, Bisexual, and Transgender Immigrants (ACATHI), worked with LGBT exiles with refugee status on an urban intervention project. Andrei Fărcăşanu, a Romanian photographer living in Barcelona, took portraits of residents in the Gràcia district, to be enlarged to life-size and wheat-pasted onto buildings where they lived. We were aided by Mireia Estrada, the director of Jiwar Creation and Society, the project’s vital local partner, who coordinated and culturally and linguistically translated for the linked projects. 

We wanted to explore how communities are built and contribute to the overall presence of a city. Oddly enough, the creative process mirrored the experience of multiple communities existing alongside each other: interdependent, interactive, and yet not entirely integrated. In addition to the linked but autonomous nature of the social-documentary projects within “Making Neighborhoods,” the participants were also collaborators, producing their own documentation for the final exhibition. Smith for the Vecinos project gave disposable cameras to African residents from Mali, Senegal, Ghana, and Equatorial Guinea, who each had radically different experiences, immigration statuses, reasons for participating, and financial situations in Spain’s faltering economy. Their photographic subjects ranged from artistic and conceptual images to everyday social gatherings, to communal dumpster-diving for food.