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Interview by Aitor Albo to Zia Fernandez Ibarreche - curator of MIGRANTS: What does migration mean to you?

A.A How does the idea for this exhibition originate?

ZFI So far this is my most personal curatorial project. What does migration mean to me? I wear my heart on my sleeve; I am anti (Brexit) Britain leaving the EU and Pro- Welcoming more Refugees to this country, especially children.

The idea originated back in February, when I was waiting to receive the letter from the HO, confirming that I was eligible to become a British citizen. Last year, I applied to become a British Citizen because I wanted to have the right to vote in the general elections. I felt strongly that if I was planning to live in London the years to come, then I wanted to have a voice in the decision making. During the eight months that it took me to fill the forms and while I was waiting for the letter, I reflected in my time living and working in different countries; Spain, Mexico and Ireland and also, the 16 great years living and working in London. I realised that migration has been a very important part of my life.

While I was waiting for the letter, I was reading the updates of the Home Office website. I realised that for the Home Office we are all Migrants. It does not matter if you are in the UK with an students visa or business or working visa or if you are asylum seeker or refugee or EU citizen. Voila, there is when I realised that we are all Migrants.

The word Migrants, is too generic right? It creates a defined division: We are the Migrants, you are the Natives. I wanted to show this in the exhibition, how we individually, without entering in this division, interpret the word Migrant and what it means to us, asking the question: What does migration mean to you?

I have never curated a show that is so close to me, it lies under my skin. I have always left artists to speak in first person, I have never given myself that space and I hope this personal statement shows its importance.

I am happy to share with you that the 14th of April I became a new British Citizen of Lambeth, London. I will be able to vote in the coming Referendum. I think I do not need to tell you what I will vote.

Migration for me is positive, always has been. I left home when I was 17 years old, migration allowed me to live in other places and live different versions of myself. When you are a Migrant like I, you start from scratch, without a job or contacts, only you and your courage. I believe that is an option that we should all have. Migration is part of who I am. I was born the same year that the United Kingdom opened the borders and democracy was established in Spain. Without the open borders in EU, I would not be here.

I have been influenced by three different events that occurred last year. The first event was the demonstration welcoming the Refugees, which I participated, walking in the march singing: "Say it loud say it clear Refugees are welcome here!". In that demonstration, I felt that I wanted to do something more.

The second event was the Banksy exhibition entitled Dismayland, that took place on the coast, in Weston-super-Mare close to Bristol. Dismayland was an eye opener and Banksy did a great job convening social critic, activism and art.

Finally, reading the column “As I Please” by George Orwell written for the newspaper Tribune, 70 years ago. Orwell has always been a great influence of mine, since he fought the Fascist in the Spanish civil war and wrote Homage to Catalonia. I wanted to give homage to him and to his work.

A.A Why now?

ZFI Right now, there is a strange atmosphere here in London. The media are intentionally mixing two debates in one; EU Referendum + The Refugees Crisis. Get two for the price of one. We are bombed with racist and xenophobic propaganda, like the Daily Mail, with articles that imply that EU citizens are taking too many benefits, also that they are taking our jobs, and abusing the NHS on the tax payer. On the other hand we are told that the Refugees will bring terrorism to our cities.

A.A Why photography as a medium?

ZFI The media are bombing the British public with de-contextualised photographs of the Migrants, to the point of dehumanising them. Portraying them as a big mass of problems, not as individuals. I wanted to create this platform so people could voice their individual views on migration. Completely the opposite to the wave that we have been forced to consume by the obvious biased media.
Why did I choose the medium of photography? I studied a degree in media and during those years I studied history of Photography and Photography in depth. Photography is a very democratic medium, today mobile phones come with cameras. Photography is so accessible. And it seems that is the most popular of the media. Sometimes it feels that photography is replacing text, it is a common language.

A.A Are there any particular criteria for the selection of the photographers?

ZFI The criteria is very open as we are accepting all type of approaches; art photography, documentary photography, conceptual photography etc. Our prestigious panel above all will follow their instinct. In case of doubt, I have given the panel three words as a reference: voiceless, in-visible and fearless. For the participants we have given three words to work around: photography-migration-voice.

A.A What is the selection process like then?

ZFI The panel is composed of prestigious photographers and critics. All of the members of our diverse panel are relevant to this project. Most of them have built up a career photographing less popular subjects and the minorities. Each member of the panel brings a different dimension to the exhibition. If you look at the work of each of them is very different. It is a pleasure and a great privilege to work with them.
The panel will asses and select the photographs individually and the photographs that will get more votes then will participate in the exhibition. All the entries will be published in the catalogue.

A.A Who are the panel members and how did they come together to participate?

ZFI For MIGRANTS: What does Migration mean to you? I am teaming up with a prestigious panel: Melanie Friend -Photographer, Carl de Keyzer Magnum Photographer, Neil Massey Photographer, Nigel Dickinson Photographer, James Russell Cant Photographer and Lecturer, Julio Etchart Photographer , Graham Evans Photographer and Senior Lecturer.

A.A Where will the exhibition take place?


ZFI The MIGRANTS Photography exhibition will take place on Tuesday, 21st of June at 6:00 pm. The venue hosting the show is The Gallery on the Corner, Battersea, London. I hope to see you there!

For more information please go to

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