Commerce and art combine for refuge

Tue, 12/03/2019 - 12:37


Awareness. ‘Línia de Fuga’ is the exhibition of refugee portraits with which the Associació de d’Amics i Comerciants de la Plaça Reial is starting to mark its 20th anniversary.

When commerce and art come together to promote stories of migrants, the result leads to exhibitions such as the one on display in Plaça Reial up until 25 March. The panels in the middle of the square portray ten people who reached Barcelona via an imaginary ‘line of flight’ from different points around the globe and who are reconstructing their lives in exile in the city.

The comparison with Plaça Reial is undeniable as the square represents a meeting point in our city, with various stories and backgrounds among local residents, retailers, visitors and of course migrants. The initiative is the result of joint work by the Associació d’Amics i Comerciants de la Plaça Reial, the Fundació Setba (which has their office in the square itself) and OAK Stories, which describe the portraits as ‘singular documentary projects’.

The square as a ‘point of flight’ for migrant lives

An iconic square, an association declaring itself as a ‘neighbourhood cultural agitator’ and an organisation which created social awareness through art provide the pillars of a display showing the faces and lives of some of the people our city has taken in. The 20-day display means visitors to the Plaça Reial will encounter the gaze, gestures and postures of ten strangers who have landed in Barcelona laden with life experiences and struggles, and who are still fighting here to achieve the dignity they have a right to.

The Associació d’Amics i Comerciants de la Plaça Reial has chosen to start the celebrations for its 20th anniversary with this display, the idea being to promote its cultural and social values, as well as its involvement in the constant activity in the city, beyond the arches of its own neighbourhood. This was explained to us by Cristina Sampere, spokesperson of the association and director of the Fundació Setba, on the opening day of the exhibition.

“My portrait and my story must help people understand extreme situations and rights violations”

Faces of refuge

George is at the inauguration. He’s one of the ten faces calling out to us in the middle of the square. He’s from Sierra Leone. His story, like the story of many LGBTI people who are persecuted, starts very early, when he suffered insults and aggression at school. Things became unbearable when he was put in prison for setting up the association  Pride Equality, a platform fighting for LGBTI rights in his country. Thanks to his mediatic profile in European countries, including Spain, he managed to gain international protection via diplomatic means and now carries the fight from here. He tells us: “My portrait and my story must help people understand extreme situations and unfair rights violations in other countries”.

Three more people looking at us from the photo panels are also strolling around the square: Maritza, Enhammed and Alain, who arrived in Barcelona at different points when fleeing persecution in their countries. Honduras, Western Sahara and Cameroon, three origins which converge in Barcelona as lines of flight. All of them agree that initiatives such as this exhibition help them feel part of the city. Recognition makes them part of the city’s population.

“We wanted images which the protagonists would feel comfortable with and proud of”

More than faces

We often talk about the long processes for getting papers, of the inclusion of migrants and refugees, but we seldom delve into specific stories and the details of people’s experiences. Life experiences which show us they’re just like us, only that they’ve been unlucky enough to live somewhere where their very existence wasn’t guaranteed. It was precisely this desire to go beyond stereotypes relating to refuge that led Oak Stories (specifically one of its founders, the photojournalist Javier Corso) to design a multi-layered project displaying the image and the story which the protagonists themselves wanted to show.

Javier tells us that “the project, commissioned by the Fundació Setba, involved six months of work, with much of that time devoted to establishing bonds with the ten protagonists. We’ve been meeting to get to know each of them, to try and show a real image, which they can feel comfortable with and proud of. These ten people have been really brave and committed, because standing out and telling your story is not easy. Yet the decision to share it can help many others”.

Commerce which gets involved

The exhibition has the backing of the Councillor’s Office for Commerce at Barcelona City Council and, in the context of Commerce and Culture Year, seeks to unite two sectors which stimulate social cohesion and the integration of refugees in the city. Up until 25 March there’s a chance to see the result of these synergies, in Plaça Reial, a meeting point for migrant stories.


Share this content