Umbral arose in a particular time and place. It emerged in an urban setting, in the heart of the city. At a time, the present, when we are forced to think about migration and the flow of refugees as a factor in any contemporary society. We have to deal with this from the perspective of our responsibility for others and for ourselves. A responsibility that is resolved as a necessity of the first order, for one important reason above all others: the knowledge that we must all be born, live and die in a land that guarantees our human rights.
These days, that need forms part of a utopian and unreal world. A need whose lack highlights endless racist and xenophobic reactions. Racist attitudes mark the other person as being responsible for contemporary maladies, as if their mere presence were the cause of the multiple economic, political and social crises, as well as the crisis of values, that our societies are immersed in, without accepting that the system that justifies them is generating the conflict.
Umbral began from the awareness of accepting a problem that concerns us all, but which is only suffered by a few. That abysmal, unequal and unfair difference was the reason for wanting to create a shared space, a place where people could come together and raise their voices as one, to work on the need to highlight the problem and demand a reformulation of the legislation which should ensure that we are all equal. We know that modifying state structures or territorial laws is not within our power. And, although it may seem obvious or even naïve, from the perspective of artistic and social action, as well as from the municipal sphere, we appeal to the symbolic potential of our initiative with the aim of creating this shared space that is open to everyone. We invite all city residents to support us in affirming that we cannot speak of freedom, well-being and equality while inequalities exist among human beings.
Our wish is to announce and affirm that it is everyone's responsibility: and for that reason, we aim to generate a change. We do not want to continue deluding ourselves with words; the challenge is shared, yes. But we have to stop saying that we “are putting ourselves in the other person's place”, when they are the ones who have no rights. No matter how much they want to, no one can put themselves in someone else’s place. However, we can stand beside them, we can create a place of refuge, reconciliation and shared struggle.
In this context, we invite a wide ranging group of people who are, or have been, migrants, as well as those who have never been one, to point out the contradictions and conflicts that characterise our societies. We also highlight the consequences of those contradictions.
The problem is not the presence of ‘the others’ in a foreign land, but that conflict arises from a lack of legislation that would facilitate the integration of people of other nationalities in the host country. This lack of a legal structure means that millions of people are condemned to a situation where many basic rights are violated. A place that is deferred in time and which also prevents these people from changing their situation.
As we noted, Umbral reflects on the phenomenon of migration as a characteristic of any contemporary society, and especially any future one. It considers not only the various realities in which we can speak of migration at a global level, but it also has a bearing on the need to create new structures that help to think about and integrate the flow of human beings who, for political and social reasons, have to leave their homes and emigrate to other latitudes. A decision which, in the vast majority of cases, is a matter of survival. We want to offer a place for reflection and understanding of the situation of inequality suffered by millions of people all over the world. The goal is to inform the general public about a common problem, raising responsibility and empathy between different groups of people, whatever their origins, culture, age or gender.
The name, therefore, is no accident. Umbral means threshold, a space of transition between one place and another. Umbral, however, concerns the space we create, and above all, an attitude: one that leads us to come together in this physical and mental place. That knowledge concerns not turning borders into somewhere without hope. Instead, we must simultaneously create a symbolic and physical place, precisely because this happens in the city's public places. It puts us somewhere that is halfway between the person who arrives in a foreign country and someone who normally lives in that land. It puts us somewhere where we become aware of the lack of resources, aid and structures encountered by displaced persons and the lack of empathy and solidarity from some people in the host country. Umbral is somewhere where people can meet and get to know each other in order to tackle the situation. Getting together helps us to perceive the lack of general awareness about the people who are arriving, but it also places us one step ahead, wanting to see this reality, wanting to consider the diaspora as a consequence of turbulent societies where human rights are not always respected.
The concept of umbral, of Latin origins, leads to three ideas that define the movement that is generated from within. Firstly, it points to the idea of a border or frontier (liminaris), something that is inevitable and necessary; a frontier defines the boundary between one land and another. It is the exclusion of someone who has arrived at a place that expels them. The second meaning refers to light (lumen), a light that is found in the hopes of all of us at Umbral. One of the project's objectives is to shed light on the conflict and make it more visible. Thirdly, it refers to the idea of home (lumbre), in some way, calling for common ground in the struggle to reaffirm the need, not only to have a home to live in, but to turn a habitable land into a place of refuge.
Metaphorically, our aim is to highlight this boundary and frontier, to shed light on the conflict and project the city as a place that belongs to its inhabitants.
How is Umbral structured? It is based on direct intervention in Barcelona's public areas, differentiating between two different environments. Firstly, the underground environment of the metro, as a metaphor for the reality of the problem: a place that is not seen, invisible, but which forms part of the city; an intervention by twelve artists (Leila Alaoui, Yto Barrada, Banu Cennetoğlu, Ramón Esono, Eulàlia Grau, Daniel G. Andújar, Hiwa K, Rogelio López Cuenca & Elo Vega, Teresa Margolles, Estefanía Peñafiel Loaiza and Dan Perjovschi) and three organisations with local projects (Sueños Refugiados, Frontera Sur and Un Regalo para Kushbu) which takes direct action in thirteen metro stations.
In these places, where we usually find adverts, there will now be other discourses, creating a sort of counter-information. The fact of occupying this public space leads to the elimination of boundaries that are often created by similar projects in cultural institutions. This public space allows us to eliminate any filters, providing access and allowing any citizen (whether here legally or not) to take part in Umbral.
Secondly, we also work in open public areas in the ten city districts, based on four educational projects: “Rescates póstumos” [Posthumous rescues”] created by the collective La Lista Olvidada; Radio Afrika, a platform run by Tania Adams, which we use to broadcast through other media, generating a new series of content; Equipo Rizoma, run by Anita García, in collaboration with Edo Bazzato and Susan Kalunge, who are directly involved in the educational sphere; and lastly the projection of the documentary Diom, created by Diom-Coop along with Quepo Foundation, who propose a dialogue with the attendees in order to approach and inform the general public about a municipal problem.
This publication showcases the various interventions carried out by Umbral, with contributions from Amadou Bocar Sam, Carmen Juares, Babiche Kampote, Paola Lo Casio, Óscar Monterde, Agus Morales, María Eugenia Palop, Carmen Pardo, Javier Pérez Andújar, Stop Mare Mortum and Antonio Valdecantos, through various articles and interviews that explore migrations and contemporary cities.
The final objective is to highlight any traces of racism, intolerance or xenophobia in our community. As we announced at the beginning, we know that we cannot always put ourselves in the place of others without it turning into a sham, but together, we can call for a greater drive to address this situation of inequality and injustice. Although the term racism is relatively recent, the practice dates back to our origins. For that reason, we place ourselves in modern times, where all the situations and contexts are contemporary and familiar to us.
Umbral is an initiative for everyone who wants and calls for the creation of a community space and acknowledges that, to overcome current inequalities, we must fight for future equality .
Imma Prieto (Vilafranca del Penedès, Spain, 1975), independent curator, art critic and a lecturer in contemporary art and new media at the ERAM University School (University of Girona). She has held various national and international exhibitions, such as “Beyond the tropics”, “Prophetia” and “Hic et nunc”, relating to the paradoxes of capitalism and democratic societies. She contributes to various media. Prieto is the author of the documentary Eco de Primera Muerte [Echo of First Death]. She is a winner of the GAC Art Critic Prize (2018).