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Using art and audiovisual methods with migrants in Spain: an interview with Francesco Bondanini

February 13, 2013

Siroccosky

Francesco Bondanini, a University of Kent alumnus, uses participatory visual methods to explore and empower the lives of migrants and detainees in Spain and Germany.  In the interview about his work below, he describes how the use of visual methods not only enables a greater depth of experience and knowledge, but more importantly, allows people to become involved and benefit from his work in a much more meaningful way.  

Tell us about the project you are involved in right now?

I have just finished the first part of a project called “Marcaré” in Melilla. Together with a team we worked in the periphery of the city with vulnerable groups, mostly from Amazigh origin (Berbers). We used art and audiovisuals as a tool to empower people and as a means for them to recover their surroundings.  It was a participatory project, in the sense that we worked together with young people and women with the aim to transform the area where they lived.

How and why did you get involved?

Knowing about my PhD, in which I used many art and audiovisual methods, Dr. José Luis Villena, a professor at the University of Granada, believed I could coordinate the project, and the Instituto de las Culturas, a public institution that works on cultural projects in the city, funded it. Together we started collaborating with local NGO Melilla Acoge with whom I had worked during my PhD, with the Red Ciudadana por la Paz, and with neighbourhood associations that made it possible for us to get into these areas.

Filming at the beach during a participatory video workshop

Filming at the beach during a participatory video workshop

‘Marcaré’ uses visual methods developed during your PhD: can you tell us about your PhD and how you started to use these techniques?

I studied Communication at the Lumsa University in Rome and I have always been very interested in Social Sciences; once I started my PhD I believed I could use what I learnt at University about photo and video in my anthropological research.

Throughout my PhD I broadly studied the situation of migrants dwelling in a particular place – the so-called European border zone.  Specifically, my research focuses on the everyday-lives of migrants living in the CETI (Temporary Permanence Camp, as per its Spanish acronym) in the autonomous city of Melilla, a Spanish enclave in Northern Africa.  Through qualitative criteria and analysis, I researched into the way a wide variety of migrants, such as Subsaharan Africans, Algerians, and Asians, rebuild their lives in this border zone.  I paid particular attention to migrants’ strategies of integration and their structural and social exclusion.

In this research I used a participatory methodology that employs audiovisuals and art.  I ran workshops on photo, video, radio and theatre to migrants and then debated the results with them. I also used audiovisual techniques during interviews.

Working in henna during a painting workshop for women

Working in henna during a painting workshop for women

What methods do you use in your current work and how have these developed from those used in your PhD?

During my fieldwork I used a sort of participatory approach with the migrants that were living in the CETI of Melilla. I ran audiovisual workshops; that was also a way to get in touch with migrants.  Following these we organized exhibitions of their works, a Seminar and a theatre piece too.  The visual work provided a way to create an open climate of opinion about their problems in the city, and a way to make their stories visible to the rest of the citizens.  In the new project (Marcaré) I used the experience gained from the projects in my PhD and applied them within a different group and context.  I worked with an amazing team, and with a higher level of organization (and a higher budget) we were able to reach more people.

What difference do you think visual methods make?

I believe the use of visuals is a way to make the work accessible to a larger audience.  This kind of work sometimes risks not being so “academic” but I believe it helps to make some kind of advocacy.  On the other hand, I believe in the approach that is based on the fact that the groups with whom we are working make the visual and artistic products; we often limit our role to coordination of activities only.

What happens to the work produced in this project?

I believe in the importance of showing the works, to prove what has been done and to share peoples’ stories and reach a wider audience.  I spend a lot of energy preparing exhibitions within the districts of the people in order to show to the other inhabitants their work.  These exhibitions are also a way to make visible ideas of transforming the surroundings.  We also worked through performances, murals and artistic installations in the districts, and each of these enabled many other people to share and understand.

Any examples?

Young People's Performance: Faces on hanging shirts

Young People’s Performance: Faces on hanging shirts

We worked a lot in a district called Monte María Cristina. We held three exhibitions of photos made by the young pupils that participated in our workshops.  We usually held these in the Neighborhood associations that we had worked in for the original workshops.  On one occasion some of the pictures were pasted on the walls of the district.  At the opening of another, the pupils performed an “action painting” in front of an improvised audience.

Prisoners painting a mural on their prison walls, 2012

Prisoners painting a mural on their prison walls, 2012

We also painted two of the patios of the prison of the same barrio.  The two murals were created and painted by the prisoners.  This was the process: we presented our idea (to paint the patio) and told them to think about what they wanted to see in their patio, something they didn’t have or couldn’t see inside the prison.  Karima Soliman, an artist who is part of the team, put together their ideas and sketches and then we moved onto the wall.  We spent almost two weeks working with them on the mural, debating ideas and the painting process.  This was one of the best experiences of the project; and this is how I conceive the participation approach.

Good stories? Bad stories? Things you would change?

Good stories: Fortunately many. Last week Trini Soler, a technician of the RNE (National Spanish Radio) that also collaborates in “Marcaré”, told me that she met a young pupil who had taken part in our radio workshop.  The pupil discovered that Estitxu González, another member of the team, was performing a theatre piece and she decided to go. When the young pupil met Trini, she asked her when we would be going back to the Monte to follow up with the workshops, because she had lots of things prepared.  We are possibly the first team that is using artistic and audiovisual tools to involve people, especially the younger people in cultural activities in these areas.  The fact that the girl went to the performance of my colleague made me think that we are going in the right direction, trying to make culture delve into these barrios.

First night of painting the mural in Pinares

First night of painting the mural in Pinares

On another occasion, we painted a mural in a park in the Pinares, a zone in another marginal part of the city.  When we arrived the park was in a bad condition.  We followed the same process as we did in the prison; in this case working with young pupils.  They created and painted the mural with the help of Manolo López, a professor at the Schools of Art in Melilla and part of our team as well.  We were afraid that the mural would only last a few days before being destroyed, because as they told us, this is what normally happens.  Instead, after almost six months the mural persists intact on the wall.  The mural was our way to improve the park and give it back to the youth that are living there; to transform it into a space to play.

Bad stories: There are a few anecdotes related to bureaucracy and our relations with the Centre in Granada that was our partner in the project; unfortunately the relation was not so fluid.

I would like to continue with this project.  We would like to transform it into a sort of Programme, i.e. something that could be permanent.  The team is now working on parallel projects but we would like to start again with “Marcaré” in a few months, so yes, we would like to change into something bigger.

Have you noticed any changes in people through being involved in these visual projects?

Artistic installation in Monte MC: Kids on the wall

Artistic installation in Monte MC: Kids on the wall

Yes. I believe audiovisuals are a way to let people express their feelings.  We gave them training and then they were able to express better their need to transform the reality where they are living or improve their quality of life.  Audiovisuals and art give people the power to express themselves.  We also tried to give them useful feedbacks and suggestions.  Once a young student from a public school where we held a photo workshop confessed: “maybe I will not be a professional photographer, but I hope that in the future I will travel all over the world to immortalize every place and moment with my camera”.

How has your work changed through the process (academic and none)?

I started using Visual methods because I find it fascinating.  Then I started to use participatory methodologies because I felt that the result of the interviews was better if I moved from behind the camera to beside the camera; making the subject feel more comfortable while he could manage the situation better.  I believe that in this way I could reach different and better data, more in agreement with the kind of research I do.  On the other hand, l believe in the methodology I use, because it gives me the chance to know the world I am studying from the inside; the workshops are a way to get in contact with people and establish relations that eludes from the duality of interviewer-interviewee.

When I started “Marcaré” I felt that I should be surrounded by a team of professionals of audiovisuals and art, for this reason I looked for people with this profile to join the team. As a result, the quality of the workshops and the works produced definitely improved.

What advice would you give to people trying to work in visual methods?

Professor behind the glass: photo from young people's photography workshop

Professor behind the glass: photo of Francesco Bondanini from young people’s photography workshop

I would suggest they get in touch and talk with the people with whom they are filming, establishing the way to use visual methods.  Sometimes these people feel uncomfortable but we don’t understand it.  I also suggest trying to collaborate with the interviewee, in this way the work will surely gain something from the experience as well.

And what’s next for you?

I have just landed in Cologne (Germany).  I will be here until June developing a research project funded by the DAAD (German Academic Exchange Service) at the University of Cologne that involves Spanish migrants living in the city.  I will use visual methods and a participatory approach in the research.  And as I mentioned before, we hope to take “Marcaré” to the next level in the not too distant future.

Francesco B. Bondanini (interview by Caroline Bennett)

For more info about the project MARCARÉ, visit:

Web (in English): http://marcaremelilla.wordpress.com/in-english/

On Facebook: Marcare Melilla: arte y transformación social

On Twitter: @marcaremelilla

Leang Neak Ta Ceremony of Spirit Mediums in Cambodia

January 26, 2013

Siroccosky

Last week my friend Paul Christensen invited me to attend a ceremony of spirit mediums with him.  The day was fascinating – full of sounds, smells and sights and whole new part of Cambodia I had not yet experienced.  I spent the day taking photos (as usual), the full gallery of which can be seen on my flickr page here.  I’ve also added a few below.

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People in Cambodia mostly don’t visit spirit mediums to negotiate and understand the past; they visit them to deal with the present and plan the future.  Between the pair of us (Paul and I), and many other researchers besides, we were expecting spirit mediums to be one of the avenues people used to negotiate the terrible period of civil war and conflict in the 1960s and 70s, and in particular the horrific violence wrought by the Khmer Rouge from 1975 – 1979.  But this appears not to be the case.  That period of history is not approached through ghosts and spirits; it is experienced and integrated into today’s life in a million different ways, some of which I am exploring in my research on mass graves.  But the mediums are an important part of Cambodian life for a whole host of other fascinating reasons, and if you want to know more I’d drop Paul a line!

Visualising the body

November 9, 2012

Siroccosky

‘Then tell me who that

me is, or the

you understood, the any of us….’

(excerpt from Human Atlas by Marianne Boruch)

.

A couple of months ago I had to have an operation.  On fieldwork in Cambodia at the time, I flew to Bangkok, and following a couple of uncomfortably contained weeks in hospital, I was discharged from hospital clutching a folder brimming with papers – the record of my time in hospital.  A few weeks later, on a sweaty afternoon in Phnom Penh, I sat looking through the folder and came across a CD of pre-operative CT scans.  As I flicked through the images, I started thinking about my perception and conception of my body and its place in my interactions in the world, something I had become acutely aware of through being sick.

As anthropologists we are encouraged to reflect on our position within our work.  But I had not really considered the place of my body within my research beyond its colour and gender.  Thinking about the body is nothing new to anthropology of course; in 1935 Mauss wrote about the body as a tool for experiencing the world, and hundreds of others have examined it since, but as I considered the scans, I started to think about the place of the visual in this articulation.  I spent the afternoon examining each image, fascinated by this exotic presentation of my self, at once both recognisable and completely alien.  A central method in anthropology is the decentralisation of the self; that movement in perception back and forth between the known and the unknown, from that which is familiar to that which is not.  Looking through the images I found myself experiencing this othering, and thus contemplating how we know our physical selves – our bodies – our ultimate research tools through which we interact, communicate and contemplate.

CT scan of my mid and upper thorax

The physicality of the body is often de-emphasised in social anthropology in favour of approaches that examine the culturally constructed meanings inscribed on it, the symbolic aesthetics presented, or the performance of power that the body enables for example.  But as I slowly recovered in the unbearable heat and humidity of Phnom Penh, the physicality of my own body was impossible to evade; it was impossible to think of the understanding of my body as simply a product of specific social, cultural and historical perspectives.  Kirmayer argued that the body provides a ‘structure of thought that is, in part, extra-rational and disorderly’ due to its relation to emotional, aesthetic and moral worlds; my thought processes and engagement with the world and others within it were entirely disorderly at this time due to their connection to the physical and the altered control of agency of myself and others on my body.  Examining the images, meanwhile, made me contemplate the relationship between the visual and the body: how much of our understanding of the body (our own and others) is influenced by what we see and how those images are presented, particularly in a medical setting?

These images were central to the relationships I became enmeshed in during this period.  They also marked a distinct interplay of power relations.  In his 1991 examination of terror in Northern Ireland, Feldman argued that power is embedded in the body and thus the body is an instrument of agency in power relations.  Whilst I am not suggesting that my experiences are anything resembling those faced by people in Northern Ireland during the troubles, I certainly became aware of the power the body wielded – both to myself and to others – and it was through the imaging that power was often articulated.  I lost the power of control and interpretation of my body and others gained it – only certain doctors could take the pictures, certain others could read those images, whilst still others could decide the actions taken on me.  My ‘docile body’, to steal Foucault’s term, caused a period of ontological insecurity which lasted some time and it seemed, as I contemplated these images, that it was initially through the visual that I began to regain power over my body, and my feeling of self.

Cross-sectional scans of upper legs showing femoral-pelvic articulation (left) and pelvis showing iliac-sacral joints (right)

The interactions that occurred in the hospital, although in Thailand, were firmly embedded within Western medico-legal theories and histories.  I wondered how a spirit-medium or soothsayer in Cambodia would interpret the pictures (particularly as I first got sick whilst visiting a mass grave), or how others would interpret them as a layperson.  The images of my body were not simple transmitters of information.  They were articulations of power, tools of communication, mechanisms of thought.  As I travelled through my body, via the CT images, I experienced an odd disjuncture: my inners looked alien and animal-like and brought to mind the dehumanisation I had felt whilst in hospital.  At the same time I felt belonging: I recognised elements of a body that exists only inside me – my peculiarly crooked spine for example, which bends at the top of my lumbar vertebrae, but which is invisible from outside to another person.  I made a journey in understanding of my body from pure physicality and hyper-awareness of its workings to aesthetic appreciation and awareness of its symbolic nature.

Now several weeks on I am intrigued by the process my body has gone through, and part of my reflecting on this caused me to produce the visual journey through my body that you can see here.  There is a form of Buddhist sect in Thailand that attempts to understand the cosmos by meditating over the corpse.  Perhaps I am performing some such form of meditation; right now this period is central to my fieldwork experience and has informed my initial interactions with Cambodia.  How does the way I use and view my body affect my communication and relationships with others and therefore my research?  Have the physicalities and resultant impact on my sense of being affected my sense of self and therefore how I interact in the world?  Certainly they did at the start.  The images and charts provided a shared language to certain members of my social circle and were completely exclusionary to others including, at first, myself.  What effect has this had on my understanding of my place in my fieldsite?

Mandible exposed through the soil at mass grave

Exposed mandible at Choeung Ek mass grave, Cambodia

My current research looks at contemporary understandings of and relationships with mass graves in Cambodia.  I feel a more embodied concept of how the body is used to influence and coerce people, how it can be a focal point of power relations, how our own understanding of ourselves is central to the understanding of the world we engage in.  The bodies that fill the graves in Cambodia are perfect examples of the manipulation of power using the body.  More than that, my understanding and views of the graves themselves has been altered through this visual approach to contemplation.  The CT scans offer a slice of my body in time and space; they represent a small, fragmented part of a much bigger whole, which each image hints at but none shows.  The graves that exist today in Cambodia are layered by years of living; each year as the rains come the layers move and elements of bodies begin to emerge before being hidden again – bone shards, small pieces of cloth – visible in part but hidden in whole and wholly incomprehensible if you do not know what lies beneath.  As I think about my own journey through my body, I also start to think about relationships with the graves; this ebb and flow of visuality that at once both offers power and voice to those skeletons whilst simultaneously removing it.  I don’t mean to be facile; I’m not trying to claim that my experience lends me any deep understanding of the graves, only that it has offered a new way of looking at them as they are manifested in everyday life.

I’m not sure exactly what the visuals of my own scans symbolise to me.  The losing of myself perhaps – the loss of control over myself, and the uninvited and uncontrollable agency of other people within my body.  The physicality of my interactions with the world.  The place of my body as a tool of communication, and as an embodiment of power relations.  The beautifully alien aesthetic of the body.  And the way that something that I know and own so intimately is also something from which I am completely disconnected.

Missed Self SPACES 2012? See the photographic exhibition of Visual Anthropology here!

July 10, 2012

Siroccosky

A master craftsman constructs a dry stone wall in North Wales.

Don’t worry if you were not able to make the screening and exhibition of Visual Anthropology projects completed by undergraduate students from the University of Kent this year, you can see the winning films here, and the photographic exhibition has now gone virtual below.  We hope you enjoy it.

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(You can also see the photos in all their glory on our flickr site here)

Breaking bubbles – Anthropology for our Future

May 6, 2012

Siroccosky

Breaking Bubbles Conference Presentation

This post is posted on behalf of Gabrielle Fenton, a third year undergraduate at the University of Kent, and founding member of both TRIBE, and co-organiser of Breaking Bubbles, a conference supported by the RAI, the University of Kent and Radical Anthropology Group.

Breaking Bubbles delegate presenting

Breaking Bubbles delegate

On the 3rd and 4th of March, I was one of many other anthropology undergrads from the University of Kent to organize a national undergraduate anthropology symposium. The theme was: Breaking Bubbles, Anthropology For Our Future. We weren’t quite sure what was going to come out of such an enterprise, but we knew that we wanted to meet other passionate students, to be confronted to other approaches to anthropology, to collectively aim at an anthropology that would be for the future. We hoped that as long as we created a good platform, interesting content would follow.

Entertainment at Breaking BubblesOver 100 students attended from 8 different universities, bringing with them their different anthropological backgrounds: biological, material, visual, social, etc… Over the two days, students presented projects and ideas on topics as varied as ‘human roots’ and ‘lived futures’, but through the variation, one theme was recurrent: undergrads want and need fieldwork, they want to physically engage with anthropology.

Chris Knight in discussion with Avi Heinemann

As an undergrad who sometimes feels that it is difficult to get out of a passive learning mode when sitting in a lecture room, this experience allowed me to engage in a much more dynamic form of learning. The presentations also showed how creative students are when enacting and using anthropology outside of their lecture rooms, such as a group of students from UCL who are trying to make anthropology available in primary schools. This creativity definitely enhanced my enthusiasm for the discipline, and I am pretty sure that this sentiment was shared by many others as the discussions after the talks were always very animated.

Delegates at Breaking Bubbles at the University of Kent I think we succeeded in breaking bubbles, and that an anthropology for our future was a main driving force over the weekend. However, we do not see this as a finished project at all, which is why we have uploaded all the videos on this OAC page and invite every one to take part in the online discussion. You can also check out more photos from the event here. Also, the means that we used to create the platform were quite primitive and we hope to receive critiques and advice so that future events can break many more bubbles…

What is visual anthropology? Video compilation of some of our projects

February 23, 2012

Siroccosky

Compilation of photos from visual anthropology

Ever wondered what visual anthropology is all about?  What does it include, and what sort of research is conducted by visual anthropologists?  We thought you might, so we’ve put together a short video compiling some of the work from the MA programme at the University of Kent, UK.

The programme teaches students a range of visual techniques to allow students to explore the world of anthropology – techniques ranging from still photography, to digital video making, to social media.  With a number of external experts teaching on the course (for example the photographer James Kriszyk, the editor Alan Miller, campaign filmmaker Zoe Broughton to name but three examples), as students on this course we learnt a huge amount, not just about the academic applications of visual anthropology, but also how it can feed into the wider world at large, and ultimately therefore a more publically engaged anthropology.  As a result our final projects have ranged from exploring life within a community of people with and without learning disabilities in Kent, to documenting threatened traditional medical systems in Ladakh, to looking at the impacts of their work on human rights workers, and much more besides.  But enough from me: watch the video and explore what visual anthropology is all about yourself.

Arctic Advocacy: A Hugh Brody Retrospective

March 25, 2011

Siroccosky

A retrospective examination of Hugh Brody’s life in Film and advocacy. Presented as part of the Film and Advocacy series, hosted by Visual Anthropology at the University of Kent, 26 January 2011.