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Ideas without borders, by Zia Fernandez Ibarreche


MIGRANTS: Europeans in Great Britain. What does home mean to you?



The Russian doll


I – within Bilbao & London - within UK - within Europe.


​Before  the outcome of the EU Referendum, I started to curate collaborative and participatory exhibitions on the subject of Migration. For EUROPA  photography exhibition I am asking the question: What does home mean to you? I hope this platform is used by anyone that feels European regardless their passports.

Today we are living transitional and uncertain  times, when we are in/ out  Europe.  We are  outside Europe after last year Referendum's outcome,  but we are in Europe because the article 50 has not been triggered jet.


Just to mention that the title of this collaborative and participatory exhibition is “Europa”, MIGRANTS: Europeans in the UK. During my research for the project I learned that Europa is a Goddess from the Greek mythology.  Her story is quite dark but I will not go into detail. The philosopher Anaximander (born c. 610 BC) was the cartographer who first draw a map of the world and named the area above-Athens; Europa. This is why I have chosen the image of Europa to represent the exhibition.​​ 


The representation of Europe and the Migrants by the media, has been two of my favorite subjects, since I am an European Migrant. I guess I tend to curate subjects that I need to understand better, in this case the systems that define my own identity.  I am European, I held dual nationality  British- Spanish and I am  living in the UK.

​I am from Bilbao, in the Basque region of  Spain. Throughout the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth, Bilbao experienced heavy industrialisation, making it the centre of the second-most industrialised region of Spain. At the same time an extraordinary population explosion prompted the annexation of several adjacent municipalities.  a city that had many layers of migrants from the rest of the peninsula because it's industry. I grew up with children who's parents came from different parts of Spain; Andalucia, Madrid, Galicia, etc... even myself, my father was a migrant,  he migrated from the region of Aragon to Bilbao and met my mother there, who is from Bilbao.


If you go to the London Transport museum, the first thing that you learn in it's Victorian galleries is that the city of London grew very quickly from 1800 the city was had 1. million inhabitants and by 1900 the city had 4.5 million inhabitants. The technology to transport Londoners had to be developed as the numbers were growing very quickly, today designers are still working on new ideas for sustainable transport ; drive-less electric cars etc, to stop normal car drivers into London and with it the  pollution.

I have taken a quote from the London Transport Museum's catalogue because I think it explains  very well that London and with it the UK is made by migrants; "In 43 AD invading Roman armies crossed the Thames. They founded London, a port settlement that became a major centre for the world trade. The city grew over the time, but it was not until the 18th century that the rapid growth began which created the urban giant of Victorian London. In 1801 when the first census was taken, nearly one million people lived in London. By 1901, the population had risen to 4.5 million in London county council area. another 2 million lived in the growing ring of suburbs beyond. This huge metropolis with its government, businesses and residential districts, vast docklands, and industrial and commercial areas, was the greatest city (... ) by 2001 London population had reached 7.5 millions."

As John Berger and Jean Mohr represented in the greatest photography book on working male migrants “The Seventh Man” published back in 1975 “Today the migrant worker experiences, within a few years, what the working population of every industrial city once experienced over generations. To consider his city once experienced by generations. To consider his life- its material circumstances and his inner feelings- is to be brought face to face with the fundamental nature of our present societies and their histories. The migrant is not on the margin of modern experience- he is absolutely central of it”





The title MIGRANTS: Europeans in the UK is a title with double edge. I am referring to the UK at this moment in time, when we are still part of EU. So Europeans living in the UK refers to all British people. Now as the British public voted for Brexit, I feel that the 48.1% that voted remain, must feel they identity has been stolen. I would like to also hear their voices from the minority vote.


If I answer the question; What does home mean to me? To me this answer is not singular but plural. I am a dual citizen and I have two homes. It is a social form that always forces us to choose one thing and not two or three. At the moment, my homes mean to me the now. Tomorrow, I could move and build my life somewhere else.


Duality has also brought division in many UK households, where different members of one family, own different passports.  In some cases the parents are EU citizens and the children are British citizens. In other cases one the parents is from the UK and the other from a country of the EU and vice versa.  Not knowing if the UK government will defend the right to remain of EU citizens, is putting these families under a lot of pressure. The government is putting  pressure on EU citizens,  to get a better deal out of EU.





MIGRANTS: Europeans in the UK, reflects on our identity, when we identify people only as migrants, is very simplistic, like using the word foreigner. For some reason it carries a stigma, in short connotes bad, whatever it means. The title is also a critique to the bad use of this word, a word we should always celebrate, in my opinion.


The person that last year championed this idea of “being multiple things” was Sadiq Khan, during the campaign for London’s Mayor Election. It was his answer to Mr. Goldsmith, when identified him only as a Muslim. This was the Tory simplistic and Islam phobic argument to win the election. You could read between lines the follow: Vote me, he is a Muslim. Sadiq replied to him via twitter, that he didn’t need to promote the faith he followed as he already wrote it in his pamphlets: “I am a Londoner, I am European, I am British, I am English, I am of Islamic faith, of Asian origin, of Pakistani heritage, a dad, a husband” published by the Financial Times on May 7th 2016. Today Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London.


I guess this project is also the outcome of being fed up of seeing people treated as bargaining chips, actually, I did not know the true meaning of “bargaining chip” until these recent events.


Last week, I decided to attend the event “I am not a Bargaining chip” Before catching the bus to Westminster,  went to print some flyers to promote this project, to the public library of Highbury. At the same time that I was there, standing next to the sculpture of Winston Churchill, inside Westminster parliament, the government were deciding whether they will reassure EU citizens their right to remain in the UK after the article 50 will be triggered.


On the same day at 6.00 pm there were a rally of speakers and peaceful demonstrators asking Teresa May to not welcome Trump to this country, to basically: Dump Trump. It was the second rally done to put pressure on May’s decision. I stayed and swap some flyers promoting this open exhibition.


While I was there I met Pramila a Scottish lady, who spent the day inside the parliament meeting her MP.  We chatted while we listened to the impassioned speakers, she told me that her husband is German, got a job in London a year ago but, now that the UK is living EU, he will lose his job. She is worried because this means they will have to return to Germany, even though she has a brother she looks after here. The UK is full of people like her, worried, in despair.




For me the methodology of curating participatory and collaborative photography exhibitions is a creative tool to learn and reflect on representation.  Back in 2004-05, for the research of a project, I interviewed people, my mother an her friends asking them; Why do you think Spain should join the EU? The outcome of these interviews and the study through semiotics of the campaign pro-Europe taught me that people new very little of the purpose of the EU and that the governmental campaign was not informative at all. It felt as if the government was covering something providing very little information through a very stylish and vague marketing campaign.

Two days ago, I was told off by the moderator of the Facebook group; UK citizenship European nationals- UKCEN, for posting adds on their face book wall, I got carried away inviting people to the exhibition, but thankfully the misunderstanding ended up in good terms.


Heike an EU citizen living in the UK,  posted a photograph on a group wall, so I contacted her to take part of the exhibition. She very quickly sent me a photograph that she posted online of herself. I really appreciate her spontaneity.


During these days promoting this collaborative and participatory exhibition,  will keep posting adds on social media to promote the event.





One of the photographers that were documenting the people inside the parliament was Susana de Dios. Susana is a photographer from Spain based in the UK.  


I met Susana on-line, she saw the advert that I posted on Facebook on the wall of- Forum for EU citizens (the 3 millions) and contacted me via email. Since last year, Susana has been working in a photography project entitled: At Home, she travels around the country photographing and interviewing EU citizens in their homes. It is a fantastic project so have asked Susana to exhibit some photographs and giving a talk during the event. For this project, Susana is asking the people showed on the photographs the question: What does home mean to you?


I am very grateful to Susana because this collaboration is spontaneous; it is the purpose of this project and it should be given a mention.  I have only one interest that is to work with the community,  to hear the voices of EU citizens in the UK in the transitional time that we are living just before BREXIT.


Note: The exhibition and event with a series of talks will be held on Sunday, 7th of May. From 6.00 pm to 9.30 pm. At the Hive-Dalston, London.


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