Now more than ever, we are on the move. People from all over are settling in places far from home, often in search of a better life. With migration now so commonplace, it inevitably has influenced our social and economic systems.
For example, annual global remittance flows, money sent back home by foreign workers, now exceeds aid funding worldwide ($350 billion versus $130 billion, respectively). Global remittances have become central to questions of global development funding. However, with rising global tensions around migration, many are finding it harder to earn a living abroad. This stress is in turn transferred to communities they support through remittance.
In Between is a mixed collection of film and photography to exploring Bellville, South Africa, informally dubbed ‘Somali Town.’ Given the pivotal role which the food economy plays in migrants’ livelihood strategies and remittance flows back home, the exhibition uses food as an entry point for an exploration into memory, migration, and resilience. The work raises questions around our understandings of informal livelihoods, and the solidarity economy in the generation of remittance flows that support millions of families globally.
In the midst of this tension, somewhere in between the shadows of crumbling apartment buildings and the flickering glow of florescent strip-lights, Somali Town has become a rallying point – like countless others scattered across the globe. An emergent sanctuary of the African diaspora, gathered on the southern tip of a continent. An unexpected home for those fleeing xenophobia, resource wars, and collapsing ecosystems. An emergent space, being woven together by those beginning to re-establish some sense of normality in a xenophobic and often violent country, with no state support.
A closer look at the stories about these migrants showcase the interconnectedness and surprising nature that the food economy in Somali Town has on remittance flows all across the continent of Africa and beyond. The narratives personify the links between social tolerance in wealthy economies to the resilience and social wellbeing within regions in crisis. In doing so, the work highlights complex social teleconnections linking some of the wealthiest parts of the continent with the social welfare in some of the least stable and war-torn. We share the documented stories of Robert (Mubarak Restaurant), Misrack (Afia Café) and Fatima (Hiiran Shop).
The art-based exploration also suggests that unlike the formal food system, the informal food economy serves as an important social safety net of last-resort for communities in exile. The informal food economy is central to building resilience among highly vulnerable communities in exile and the global social networks they support. Furthermore, the narratives from the exhibition suggest that food can also assist in ameliorating cultural discord in regions where refugees and other migrants settle.
Som’ Town has become a rallying point. An informal sanctuary of the African diaspora. Those fleeing xenophobia, resource wars, failed states and collapsing eco-systems. Those beginning to re-establish a new-normal. Those who help those who have yet to leave.
An unyielding urban environment, standardized, devoid of organic form or soft public spaces. A space into which cultures are compressed, forced to yield around the physical geographies of the urban form. Caught under pressure between origins and the present. Between the kinds of social forces that drive one to arrive at a place like this, and those ‘here-before-you’ attempting to hasten your departure.
In the cracks between dirty asphalt and a working-class train station.
Under the fly-overs and up un-lit stairwells, behind face-brick facades and the shatterproof glass windows of lay-by furniture stores. In the mid-day shadow of the high-rise apartment buildings, in the flickering light of florescent strip-lights. As a dry wind gusts out to sea.
A disused public payphone in between advertisements for women and men: Make your dick bigger. Kill your unborn baby. Fix your marriage. Coca-Cola. Something for everyone.
Welcome to street-capitalism.
In between the brand new Mercedes Benz, women curled up in doorways and hopes for something just a very, very, little bit better than this. Between the dreams of 1970’s white Afrikaaner architects laboring under the weight of Apartheid and waking up soaked in sweat after that reoccurring dream [that’s a memory] about Jangaweed militia.
Trying to sell enough 50c packets of processed junk-food to put food on the table of your family back home, in between being spat at, sworn at, shot at, having your shop burned to the ground, in the place you came to to get away from things far worse.
In between all of this a different kind of memory endures.
Perhaps you fail to notice as they gather in drifts in sheltered alcoves. Like leaves stripped from branches by a violent storm. Quietly, becoming. Becoming the rich humus that builds up between the shards of concrete. Concrete you cast. Vast swaths of concrete laid by pension funds and government bonds. In a poorly lit corner, the hand-made clay coffee pot slowly comes to the boil on the gas burner. Behind shaded windows, thousands of hands going about the daily task of preparing recipes that never had to be written down because they are known . Milled grains – land-races – smuggled down the length of an entire continent along trucking routes – after all that has been left behind, that trace of home, at least, endures.
In between all that is happening, you begin to feel at home.
Sweet tea with cardamom, served to you by a woman whose name you don’t yet know but whose henna stained hands remind you of a mother you last saw over two decades ago.
You close your eyes for the briefest of moments.
This project was supported by GRAID through the Centre for Complex Systems in Transition (Stellenbosch, South Africa). Photography and film credits: Luke Metelerkamp, Steve Mc Donald & Jules Macer.