AFRICA IS A COUNTRY

Vecinos. Neighbours. A Short Film on African Migrants in Barcelona
Sydelle Willow Smith | December 18th, 2013

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The short film below 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.

Xumo Nunjo, originally from Cameroon:

I am from the planet Earth, born in Africa, I have lived in Europe for the past twenty years. You can never lose your African roots — they are too strong, but you have to be universal, you have to be planetary. Home is the cosmos. Home is this planet. Don’t accept anything else.

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”. These images were exhibited in Spain and will be exhibited in South Africa in 2014.

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 NGOs to educate youth at home in Senegal like Mamadou Dia, who has also written 3052, a book about his experiences.

Mamadou Dia has been living in Europe for the past eight years, he came to Spain by boat from Senegal:

The term neighbor in my country is a sacred thing. In fact we always urge people to consider them, the neighbors are an extension of the family. I was lucky to live a short time in Barcelona and to become friends with my neighbors. We always recommend to look at the community where we live, a mother, a father, brothers and friends, so it will feel protected as a family and people can live in harmony.

Based on my five weeks of hanging out with various Africa migrants living in Barcelona, the short film above reflects the experiences of how people have come to Barcelona and have made the strange familiar, and how certain things, such as a sense of European individualism, continue to remain unfamiliarly strange. Gelia Barila Angri is the last interviewee to feature in the film:

She says:

I’m 24 years, and I’m from Equatorial Guinea. I came to live in Barcelona when I was 16. So I’ve been here eight years … For me, a home is where you make your home, where you feel comfortable. No matter where you are born. For me personally my home is here, but I always remember my roots, I never forget where I come from.

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Born in Johannesburg in the 80's. Graduate of The Market Photo Workshop. Visual artist based in Cape Town focusing on memory, home and place making.

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