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Audience at MIGRANTS_ Colombians in Lond

Ideas without borders, by Zia Fernandez Ibarreche




I have made up my mind, this summer; I am going to travel to Colombia. I must migrate and see Colombia. I will work there in a similar curatorial project; a participatory and collaborative photography exhibition. I will be working with a group of people that had moved from the country side to the capital, looking for shelter. I will research this movement of people in a country that is at war.


On this trip I would like to reflect on John Berger’s words after he left us this year. “Seeing comes before words, the child looks and recognises before it can speak” Ways of seeing.  I believe that seeing Colombia and working there, will be necessary to put farther words into paper.





I am writing from my apartment in London, today is the 18th of February, 2016. Next month, the UK Prime Minister Teresa May will trigger the article 50 and the country will have two years to exit Europe.


I can say that I am a migrant, a proud one. I have been a work migrant, a cultural migrant, a student migrant, an unemployed migrant, name it.  I guess it is important to talk about migration at this moment in time, after the results of the Colombian Referendum for the PEACE, back on Sunday 2nd of October 2016. The results were very divisive; No Vote- took the total of 50.21 % of the votes and Yes Vote- took the total of 49.78% of the votes.


It is important to share a platform where we can hear and share the voices of Colombian migrants in an open and creative way.





Since last year, I have been working on the subject of Migration with different communities in London and internationally, curating participatory and collaborative photography exhibitions and events. It is important to acknowledge the different groups of Migrants that inhabitant London.  We have been put all on the same divisive labelled bag by this government. One thing I have clear, we are not the indigenous inhabitants of Londinium, so wonder who we are?


My approach starting curating the first exhibition was quite natural, it was in 2015-16. I was doing the paper work to become a British citizen when I came up with the idea of curating an open, collaborative and participatory photography exhibition entitled MIGRANTS: What does migration mean to you? The photography exhibition was an opportunity for photographers, students and the general public to showcase their work during the Refugee and the EU Referendum week. With the intention of giving voice to all points of view on migration in society both within the UK and internationally, participants were invited to consider the question; What does migration mean to you?


After reflecting on the outcome of MIGRANTS: What does migration mean to you?  I realised that missed the submissions of the people that are not allowed to be active members of our society; the Refugee community, so I decided to go to Greece and spend the summer volunteering for an NGO; I AM YOU in a Refugee camp, at the same time that I produced some workshops on photography and story telling with the residents and volunteers of the camp. The outcome of these workshops became the second exhibition entitled: MIGRANTS: Residents and Volunteers at Ritsona camp.


Following this project, back to London, I volunteered working as a Researcher for the NGO; International Alert. During this period, learnt that Colombia is the country with more displaced people in the world. 8 million and  is   at  a civil war that started 53 years ago. After  a long war- 53 years, the country and its displaced people are divided.


Since last September, I started to meet different groups of Colombians in London and helped them promoting the PEACE Referendum. During those first meetings at the South Bank Centre, I became very passionate about the history of Colombia and having many Colombian friends, I  decided to curate the third collaborative and participatory exhibition entitled; MIGRANTS: Colombians in London.  The project asks the question: What does home mean to you?





For this curatorial project MIGRANTS: Colombians in London I have immersed myself into the Colombian community living in London. I have spent four months  talking to different groups, attending to different cultural events, promoting the PEACE Referendum on-line and at different events, and also attending a very unsuccessful photography and story telling workshop, after massively promoting it,  giving away  two thousand flyers around London.


From the research, I learnt something: the Colombian community tend to congregate around two areas in London. These area are; Elephant and Castle shopping center (also surroundings) and Seven Sisters indoor market. Some people have complaint to me that the community is divided by two, by the river; North and South. People from the North do not go to the South and vice versa. This is something that I do not find estrange because it happens with many Londoners, they just stay within the neighboring areas of their homes.


During the last 16 years, that I’ve lived in London I visited many times the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, I really love the energy, the people and the food. But, I did not know of the existence of Seven Sisters Indoor market, it has been a real discovering. I have to thank this project for taking me to such a vibrant place.


In the past four months, I have returned different time to Seven Sisters Indoors market and surroundings because I wanted to meet and engage the people that visit the market, also wanted to meet the community of Colombians and Latinos that are established there.




I was ignorant of  how much work is involved to sustain a community in London.

Two weeks ago, in one of my trips to the Seven sisters indoor market, I met someone very special there, her name is Mirka Morera, she is British with Ecuadorian heritage.  Mirka is very loved and respected in the market, she runs arts and crafts workshops for the children of the community at the market.


While I was there I saw the fruits of Mirka’s workshops, a lovely painting exhibition done by the children from the Latino community of the area, the theme is “Save our market” the pictures are hanging on a wall outside a shop, opposite Mirka’s father video shop. Mirka explains that in London the weather conditions force children to play indoors, that is way the market is so important for the community, because otherwise they wouldn’t have anywhere else to play.


Mirka is great, I really admire her because she is mobilising everyone collecting signatures for a petition to stop the plans to demolish the market. So far she has collected 1.900 signatures on-line.


While we were talking, I learnt that the fight to keep the market is been on for ten years. We sat next to a wall full of images and paintings, in one of the photographs, I can see Mirka meeting Fidel Castrol, surrounded by hundred of people. Mirka really admires Fidel, he passed away this year. 


We are in the market, at her father’s video shop, she asks me if I wouldn’t mind to write a paragraph and sign her on-line petition entitled; Save UK’s only Latino village Pueblito Paisa in Seven Sisters Indoor Market & Wards Corner.


After asking Mirka a few questions about who owns the Latino Village, I wrote and a quote: “I believe the Seven Sisters Indoor market is a great asset for the Latino community. We should have more real places like this in London. It is not for tourists and big corporations but for the people, places like this today are so needed. I hope TFL (Transport for London) and our Mayor keep the corporate world away from this place. Love your community and your neighbours!”





Today I am at Elephant and Castle shopping centre with Julian Martinez and Aitor Albo. They are a photographer and an artist based in London, they are my collaborators for this project and they are helping to deliver the workshops. Julian is Colombian, he explains to me that the shopping centre or as colloquially Colombians call it; “shopping” is the place where people gather.


We have come to the shopping centre many times in the past, to give out flyers and talk to the people, promoting this creative event; mainly collecting photographs and the story telling workshop.


I noticed that when you are inside the shopping centre you feel as you were taken outside Europe. The Latino community has completely taken over the identity of the place, otherwise quite monotonous and boring. We are sitting inside the “shopping” between INARA money transfers, where people can send money to their homes world wide, and “La Bodeguita” Colombian café.


Julian says that if you send money home through this shops it works pretty fast, the recipient, can collect the money one hour after you have sent it. They usually charge a 3% commission per transaction. The money migrates

to the destination and the receiver has to go to a shop of the same company to collect it.


The “shopping” has been very quiet in the morning, but now it is around 3.00 pm in the afternoon you can feel that the place is getting more lively, also the romantic serenading Colombian music is coming out loud from the cafe “La Bodeguita” which is full of clientele, customers, who are eating “empanadas de carne y pollo” at the terrace.  The atmosphere is changing into a more fun and sociable vibe.


Julian says that people are finishing work and that is why the shopping centre is getting more traffic. A group of girls are walking in front of us, they are loud and laughing, they all wear black clothes and heavy make-up, and they seem to be going to a party.




Julian says that this shopping center represents Colombia pretty well, people buy things, meet friends, learn about the news from Colombia, can pick up the Latino newspapers, find help with legal advice, find work, meet people that translate documents, find out about rooms for rental. It is the place where Colombians deal with all type of inquiries.


It seems that many Colombian pensioners spend most of the days hanging around the shopping centre, like us, we have spent all day here. And I noticed that inside is warm comparing to the low temperatures that are outside, in the streets of London, during the month February.  He says that he can recognise most of the people from previous times. “It is always the same people that come to this meeting point”


The Elephant and Castle shopping center has been under threat of demolition for many years, I ask Julian, if they demolish this community center how will affect the Colombian community? He replies that “if the shopping centre gets demolished there are still many Colombians shops and restaurants around the area but it wouldn't be the same. If they build another shopping centre, like for example Westfield,  it will be very rare to see the Colombian community hanging there. The Latino businesses  and its community will be replaced by big corporate businesses, definitely, it wouldn’t be the same”.


By 5.00 pm the “shopping” is full of people, our workshop is over, it has not been very successful, but I am grateful because I had a little time with Julian and Aitor to reflect about the importance of this project.


Note: The exhibition and event with a series of talks will be during the second week of April, the date has to be confirmed. For future updates please  check our web:


Thank you for reading.


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