Vecinos – Making neighbourhood in Barcelona

Vecinos – a residency project in Barcelona with Jiwar supported by the Africa Centre. Many participants for this project, who are all originally from Africa, had never met a white South African before, and my cultural identity became a wealthy topic of debate and discussion. Being a South African can be weird, our history is complex, as are the constructs of race deeply routed in the national psyche. My skin is on the pale side. Every couple of months someone will ask me “But where am you really from?” I am a product of colonial history. This positioning has led me to 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. 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 such as Mamadou Dia, or how has the experience changed after living here for twenty years like Xumo Nunjo? How does one hold onto 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 multilayered. 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”. Some people I met are very rooted within Barcelona, surrounded by friends, studies, dreams, their lives are lived in the present – home being where they are, and this is what they chose to photograph. Yet they also keep strong connections to home, running O.N.G’s to educate youth at home in Senegal and Ghana, like Mamadou and Ousmane. Participants such as Woyta, chose to photograph the struggle for everyday survival he encounters, scouring for leftovers in rubbish bins across the city with people from many different countries come to eek out an existence. Based on my conversations with participants, while they took their own photographs, I made a short film, layered with interviews reflecting varying experiences of how people have come to Barcelona and made the strange familiar, and how certain things, such as a sense of European individualism, continues to remain unfamiliarly strange. My tourist eyes have partially interpreted the stories shared with me. A collaborative conversation was had between people from different parts of Africa, in a complex beautiful city – Barcelona – and in the process a visual document of interpretations of “neighbourhood” was made.


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