In collaboration with Cheikh Sene, Usmane Toure, Talla Kebe, Ablaye Diagne, Magatte Wade, Aliuo Mbaaye, Mbaye Fall, Ablaye Miang.
You can find him walking in the sun or in the dark on the side of a provincial road where for kilometres no sign of a house or any other person is to be seen from your car window. You can find him on that same road swaying left and right on a half broken bike, balancing a large water gallon or a mattress in his arms. Watch him as he stands among hundreds waiting at dusk to be selected by a landlord as fit to harvest the land; look in awe as you watch him handle your fruits and vegetables with the utmost care, day after month after year for almost nothing.
Step onto any of the alleys that cross the city and you’ll see him as he roams. Step into the paths of your conscious and you’ll encounter him as he dwells.
Outsiders call the stretch of land consisting of two parallel lanes of improvised cottages that constitute his world a ghetto. For him, it is just the place where he stays. You’d never come upon his place unless you lived there too, or had lost your way, or were out on a mission, a project, a report or a survey and accompanied by your camera as eyes to make you believe and understand what you see.
According to Saiydia Hartman in her essay The Terrible Beauty of the Slum:
Arriving in Campobello, one crosses the threshold into a rough, disorderly and brittle world. A place put together by bare hands, found pieces of wood, nails, lots of nails, and by the communal spirit of around forty Senegalese men. There is where I met him. And he reclaimed his name: Usmane, Talla, Ablaye, Magatte, Cheikh, Aliuo, Mbaye, Ablaye. Read them out loud.
It is August 2020, two months after the lockdown. At five in the afternoon, I arrive at Campobello with my eight months old baby Luna, my partner Luca and Cheikh, who has lived here before but now lives in Palermo and does a lot of work still to support the community in Campobello. We have brought typical Sicilian sweets and six bottles of water with us, as I am used to always bring something along when I go to visit people in their house. The sun is strong and I search for some shade for my child, pressing her against my body and pressing my body against one of the collaged walls covered by half a roof. I stand between two worn out couches facing the entrance of the camp, and to my right and left stretch two parallel rows of improvised cottages.
This spot where I stand turns out to have the function of a public square within the camp, and there is another cottage like structure which is both the living space of Waad and the shop of the camp. It has the only television and electric generator which provides current for people to recharge their phones against a low fee. At the entrance there are also six blue water tanks that the municipality of Campobello has installed here after a long and intense work of protest and negotiation. So no running water, no toilets and no electricity in this Campobello.
During the olive harvesting season, around 1500 people arrive to live in the camp from all over Italy. With them the camp expands and extra cottages, two restaurants and more shops are built.
I do not move any further than the ‘square’ in my five visits to the camp. Any step further would feel as a form of voyeurism or intrusion into their private living spaces. Twice a group of people working for NGO’s arrive to do some statistics or research and I am alarmed to see them march into and through the camp looking left and right as if examining specimens, checking things out as if on a touristic site. There is for sure a different sense of living to be perceived and encountered but not with the surveilling eye. Because what the eye could see has already long been imprinted on its retina. Injustice does not need a second image or another visit to be verified.
Recycled material and recycled geographies, yet restored histories of injustice are at the foundation of these structures and their stories. Fragments of wood held together to contain fragments of lives. Vulnerability overlapped with care. The care with which they keep gathering their lives and bodies on that terrain of a deserted cement factory between endless fields of olive yards. Some men tell about stacked objects and furniture in their single room cottage, things that they have brought with them when they moved into the camp. Yes, many have moved here from rental apartments and from other parts of Italy in order to send the sum of rent to their families back home instead, and they also sought a sense of community in the camp. Many of them have Italian residence permits but what nobody has are fair working contracts and conditions.
(Italian, Wolof and English are the languages we communicated in. All the men spoke to me in Italian.)
As I stand there/here in the shade of this half roof and the shadows of my conflicting emotions, Cheikh goes around inviting the people to gather in the little ‘square’ to meet us. ‘Please take a seat’, they keep welcoming me. I am struggling with my feeling of disgust at the condition of the seats on the one hand, mainly worried about the health of my child, and the feeling of shame at this emotion on the other hand. After I shake hands with the ten men that have gathered to meet us, this feeling does not go away but gets accompanied by a strong sense of being welcome, warmth and trust. I introduce myself as a mother, a partner, a migrant yet a European citizen, an artist, a consumer and a dreamer. I am here to start a relationship with the persons that provide me with the food I eat, persons with whom I am interconnected yet from whom I am disconnected, you, I add. And I want to propose re-writing the latest Sanatoria law, issued as a response to the pandemic, which proposes making your work as ‘braccianti’ in the land ‘legal’ for the coming six months. I imagine us eating this law together as a form of engaging in a relationship. To put it on our different tongues, to invite our bodies to transform it, to claim it and re-write it. I want to expand it, write through and in spite of it our abundant presences, stories and knowledge. I am aware of the differences in the economical positions that we occupy, the power structures we benefit from or are subjected to, and the power of an artistic identity/practice. Thus, I am open to dropping this proposal and to follow your proposals and that what will emerge as we start working together, I add.
Our relationship is a work relationship as a starting point, I explain to them. I do not expect you to spend time, effort and share your knowledge for free. Your working time will be paid from a European Solidarity Fund through a cultural organization, Studio Rizoma. And who would be better suited than the EU and the art market to pay migrants some of their debts. As a product, I imagine writing a text reflecting on our encounter. Eight people agree on the terms of meeting four times for few hours each time, and on trying to engage with my proposal. The first ‘working session’ is scheduled a week from today. I inform them that there is a budget of one thousand euros, and we agree on spending it like this: 8 people 4 meetings of half a day 40 euro fee per day Total: 640 euros fees Food for 2 meals for 20 people, and gasoline from Palermo to Campobello di Mazara= 360 euros Total: 1000 euros.
How much choice does someone in financial need, and during the pandemic have in participating or not in my proposal? How fair is this proposal? I experience it as problematic on the ground because it creates conflict in the community. The work the team and I are doing together is not ‘visible’ as work to others, and some people who are hanging around us feel entitled to receive money as well. Some see it as financial help and do not understand why some people get it and others not. One person follows us to the car as we are leaving after the first session, saying that he also has a torture story from his time in Libya to share if I would want to interview him.
How can such exchange be done with more care?
I take a colorful flowery table cloth and spread it on the table in the middle of the square, my idea is to bring a foreign element to the space that would differentiate or highlight the time and space of our encounter, hoping to create some focus with this. I gather some of the compiled chairs around it and wait for ‘the team’ to sit around for our first session. However, they keep arriving and extending the space on one side of the table creating a semi-circle with their bodies where the table and I are the other half of the circle. For a while I still wait for the team to move and take a seat at the table thinking they might be hesitant or shy anticipating what we will be doing or talking about… then I take a good look at my expectation, then at them as they are at ease in their chairs conversing and I realize how misplaced my gesture is. I move away from the table and join them in their square. I have brought some roasted peanuts with me to share with them. Peanuts harvested in Senegal, roasted in Lebanon and brought to me to Sicily by my mother. Peanut is one of the crops planted and harvested back in Senegal. A taste from my youth. I remember the fingers of my father as he fed me a peanut at a time on the sandy beach back in my home town, their saltiness mixed with that of the sea, their crunchiness with that of the sand. A memory that carries the rhythm of the sea and the rhythm with which these peanuts arrived to my mouth, gentle like that of moving the beads of a Mala.
I ask them: Which taste from your youth comes to your mind and senses now? Before finishing my question Aliuo starts telling with a flow of warmth and enthusiasm:
“The ghetto is a space of encounter. It is a wretched environment. It is the plantation extended into the city. It is a social laboratory. It is an urban commons where the poor assemble, improvise the forms of life, experiment with freedom, and refuse the menial existence scripted for them. No one ever settles here, only stays, waits for better, and passes through; at least that is the hope”.
Usmane says: “No one can ever survive living here. This is no place for humans. I can, only because I know it is a passage.”
Usmane says: “Nessuno può sopravvivere vivendo qui. Questo non è un posto per umani. Io posso, solo perché so che è un passaggio”
“Quando avevo quattro anni, il mio babbo è venuto nella casa di mia madre e mi ha portato a Dakar per andare alla scuola coranica. Sono rimasto lì fino a quando ho avuto quattordici anni. Non ho visto mia madre né le mie sorelle per tutto questo tempo. Mio padre veniva una volta all’anno a farmi visita e anche uno zio veniva a farmi visita. Io sono stato seduto lì a studiare come altri fanno il servizio militare. Alle donne non era concesso venire lì. Quando sono entrato di nuovo nella nostra casa avevo quattordici anni, mia madre non mi ha riconosciuto subito, quando è successo le lacrime hanno iniziato a scorrere sulle sue guance, mi ha chiesto di andarle vicino e mi ha abbracciato… Quella sera ha cucinato il couscous con la carne, e il giorno dopo mi ha portato al mercato per comprarmi vestiti nuovi… mi ha chiesto come era stata la mia esperienza, come mi sentivo, se tutto fosse a posto… se avessi qualche problema… ma ad una madre tu non puoi raccontare tutto… perché il suo cuore è molto tenero e tu puoi causarle dolori e dispiaceri se le racconti i tuoi problemi…”
“No, not at all,” they answer.“Give us time,” Mbaye says, “there are many things in our heads that we do not have access to,” he adds.
“No assolutamente – they answer…” “dacci tempo – dice Mbaye – ci sono molte cose nelle nostre teste a cui non abbiamo accesso”, he adds.
“Tu lavori e lavori e mandi soldi alla tua famiglia – Mbaye dice spezzando il silenzio – e rischi di diventare vecchio e continuare a vivere solo così, lontano dalla vita che vorresti con la tua famiglia. È come vivere una vita senza me stesso e senza quelli che amo… Per questo io vivo in questo campo, per risparmiare sull’affitto e avere la possibilità di andare e trascorrere tempo con la mia famiglia. Tu costruisci ricordi qui, ma non quelli che vorresti ricordare… Ho raccolto molte lezioni di vita ed esperienze nei miei quindici anni in Europa, e la più importante è fare in modo che i miei figli non abbiano la stessa illusione che la vita qui sia migliore che a casa „, he concludes.
I am thinking about my mother, Jale. I miss her… She died six years ago.
“Io sto pensando a mia madre, Jale. Mi manca… Lei è morta sei anni fa.”
“Persone chi lavorano con le bracci”, Talah explained. “People who work with their arms” , Talla explained.
Then Cheikh rolls in his chair and speaks: “Braccianti refers to someone who is obliged to do work, and does work for someone else; so he expects something back, a good response, because he has done work with his strength, with his arms for the other… this has value— work has value, and the worker should be valued; but our work here is not valued so we are called braccianti; non é una nome carina. They take our force and give us little. Also washing dishes should be respected and paid fairly - there isn’t big work and small work. We do the work that brings life to others- when you go to the supermarket to buy your fruits you do not think about how they got there, what for effort it took for them to be available for you— you do not see the work behind. Work is much heavier without respect and dignity.”They take our force and give us little. Also washing dishes should be respected and paid fairly- there isn’t big work and small work. We do the work that brings life to others- when you go to the supermarket to buy your fruits you do not think about how they got there, what for effort it took for them to be available for you— you do not see the work behind. Work is much heavier without respect and dignity”.
“Persone che lavorano con le braccia”, Talla explains.
Then Cheikh rolls in his chair and speaks: “Braccianti si riferisce a qualcuno che è obbligato a fare un lavoro, e lavora per qualcun altro; quindi si aspetta qualcosa in cambio, una buona risposta, perché ha fatto il lavoro con la sua forza, con le sue braccia per l’altro … questo ha valore - il lavoro ha valore e il lavoratore dovrebbe essere valorizzato; ma il nostro lavoro qui non è valorizzato, quindi siamo chiamati braccianti… non è un termine carino. Prendono la nostra forza e ci danno poco. Anche il lavaggio dei piatti dovrebbe essere rispettato e pagato in modo equo: non ci sono grandi lavori e piccoli lavori. Facciamo il lavoro che dà vita agli altri - quando vai al supermercato per comprare la tua frutta non pensi a come sono arrivate lì, a quanto impegno è stato necessario per essere disponibili per te - non vedi il lavoro dietro. Il lavoro è molto più pesante senza rispetto e dignità”.
“Loggo,” Aliuo answered.
“Loggobugudu” meaning long arms, “Loggobugate” meaning short arms: “I recognize these terms when it comes to arms,” Aliuo spurts out of a deep concentration. “We have this concept of having long arms or short arms in Senegal, which is also valid here,” he adds. “The one who has long arms does not get tired, you have connections and recommendations and things get done for him. The ones with short arms are those who have no possibilities, like us - come noi. Us who have short arms everyone and everything depends on us, and we depend on our short arms because we do not have any important connections. Fariamo tutto con nostri mani. We also say: “Samaloggo kato smanigo”. Which means: my hands cannot touch my back, as in, I would like to do more but I cannot because my arms are ‘short’. You want to help but you cannot.”
„Loggobugudu“ che significa braccia lunghe, „Loggobugate“ che significa braccia corte: „Riconosco questi termini quando si tratta di braccia“, Aliuo spurts out of his deep concentration. „Abbiamo questo concetto di avere armi lunghe o corte in Senegal, che è valido anche qui“, he adds. “Chi ha le braccia lunghe non si stanca, ha connessioni e raccomandazioni e le cose sono fatte per lui. Quelli con le braccia corte sono quelli che non hanno possibilità, come noi. Noi abbiamo le braccia corte e ognuno e ogni cosa dipende da noi, e noi dipendiamo dalle nostre braccia corte perché non abbiamo connessioni importanti. Facciamo tutto con le nostre mani. Diciamo anche: “Samaloggo kato smanigo”. Vuole dire: la mia mano non tocca la mia spalla… io vorrei fare di più ma non posso, perché le mie braccia sono corte. Vorrei aiutare ma non posso….„
“Dipelente meaning solidarity in Wolof,” answers Aliuo. “We sense a lot of solidarity among each other, and in my years in Italy I’ve experienced some moments of solidarity. It does need to be a big gesture, simple things like seeing that you need shoes and giving you one is also a form of solidarity”.
“We have been here for four years, non of the inhabitants of Campobello came here to meet us, to see who we are, or if we needed anything. We are nothing to them - we do not exist. They do not want to talk to us, we are only here to work. Nothing can change about our situation,” exclaims Usmane. “We need to be in relation to be able to help each other and solve things - and we need to build this relationship slowly, step by step. If you were afraid of me and I am afraid of you, and we do not talk or approach each other, how would anything change,” Usmane continues. “They only see skin color.”
“Dipelente” significa solidarietà in Wolof, answers Aliuo. Si avverte molta solidarietà tra di noi, e nei miei anni in Italia ho vissuto dei momenti di solidarietà. Non deve essere un grande gesto, cose semplici come vedere che hai bisogno di scarpe e dartene un paio è anche una forma di solidarietà”.
“Siamo qui da quattro anni, nessuno degli abitanti di Campobello è venuto qui per incontrarci, per vedere chi siamo, o se avevamo bisogno di qualcosa. Non siamo niente per loro, non esistiamo. Non vogliono parlare con noi, siamo qui solo per lavorare. Nulla può cambiare nella nostra situazione”, exclaims Usmane. “Dobbiamo essere in relazione per essere in grado di aiutarci a vicenda e risolvere le cose e dobbiamo costruire questo rapporto lentamente, passo dopo passo. Se tu avessi paura di me e io ho paura di te, e non ci parliamo né ci avviciniamo, come può cambiare qualcosa? Usmane continues. Vedono solo il colore della pelle”.
“Ciao and grazie”, all of them repeat.
“Ciao é una parola che viene dal nord d’Italia, Venezia. In dialetto veneziano, loro dicono ciao per dire schiavo; slave in English,” my partner Luca, the only native Italian speaker among us tells us. “Ah, slaves: come li genti neri in America”, Wade nods.
Ciao è una termine che viene dal nord d’Italia, da Venezia. In dialetto veneziano, loro dicono ciao per dire schiavo, slave in English, my partner Luca, the only native Italian speaker among us tells us. “Ah, schiavi: come li genti neri in America”, Wade nods.
“Questa Sanatoria non cambia nulla per noi, Talla explains. Non importa se abbiamo i documenti o no, i contratti di lavoro sono pessimi - lavoriamo trenta giorni e loro mettono sul contratto sette ed è quello che dimostrano all’INPS: l’istituto nazionale per la previdenza sociale. Quindi i soldi della nostra pensione sono quasi niente. Ci pagano in nero per più dei sette giorni previsti dal contratto, ma ci rubano i soldi futuri. E comunque la paga è molto bassa rispetto alla quantità e all’intensità del lavoro che svolgiamo. Ed evitano di pagare le tasse e questo è un problema per noi quando dobbiamo rinnovare i nostri documenti perché sembra che abbiamo lavorato molto poco. Non possiamo lamentarci o andare alla polizia per dire che non è giusto. Abbiamo famiglie da sfamare, perderemo il lavoro. Qualcun altro dovrebbe andare lì per controllare e regolamentare „.
La legge non vede la persona, says Usmane, perché se tu vedessi la persona non potresti proporre questo tipo di legge che presume che le persone siano invisibili!”
“When I was four years old my father came to the house of my mother and took me to Dakar to attend the Koran school. I stayed there till I was fourteen years old. I did not see neither my mother nor my sisters for all that time. My father came once a year to visit me and one uncle came once to visit me too. I sat there studying like they do military service. Women were not allowed to go there. When I entered our house again I was fourteen, my mother did not instantly recognize me, but when she did the tears rolled over her cheeks and she asked me to come closer and hugged me… She cooked couscous with meat that evening, and the next day she took me to the market and bought me new clothes… she asked me how my experience was, how I felt, if everything was fine… if I had any problems… but to a mother you cannot tell everything… because her heart is very tender and you could cause her pain and worry if you tell her your trouble…”
“You work and work and send money to your family,” Mbaye says breaking the verbal silence, “and you risk to grow old and continue living just like this, away from the life you want with your family. It is like living a life without myself and without those I love. That is why I live in this camp, to save on the rent and have the possibility to go and spend time with my family. You make memories here, but not ones you would want to remember. I have gathered a lot of life lessons and experiences in my fifteen years in Europe, and the most important one is making sure that my children do not get the same illusion that life here is better than back home,” he concludes.
I listen for more.
A pregnant silence. Carrying the different sounds and qualities of movement in each of their bodies and in their eyes. Echoing the deeper sinking in time, into the broken chairs; then vibrating with the sudden restless movements of the neck or hands or feet. And in between all these movements a glance towards me, contemplating my question, my intention, my purpose. I ask: do you find it a strange question? I am sorry if I am asking a personal question, for me memories are very important to who I am and important in my work.
I could hear that there are parts of their identities, of who they are, that are not called upon in this reality they live in. They are not able to give a new identity to their life here, and neither have the chance to reconcile with the old one. It has nothing to do with the nature or content of the question, to which they for sure had an abundance of stories to answer with, it has to do with what has been invited to this life they have here. I understood that our time together is about being with everything unsaid, unheard, sacrificed, and offered. A confrontation with loss, a reclamation of time from a system that exploits you not only physically but also mentally and emotionally. A time to attend to and to mend the fragments.
Then I ask Usmane what he’s thinking as he seems far sunken in his thoughts staring at the ground and he answers:
On Arms My arms remember so well the weight and skin of my baby when she was born, which strong memories do your arms uphold other than the experience of work?
I would like to explore with you if we could redefine the term ‘braccianti’ and charge it with stories and different values than the ones it refers to, that is why I ask about memories of your arms, I explain. What is ‘braccianti’? Several of them seem to not have heard of this word before.
Sitting among a group of old and young followers of the Baye Fall movement, this last statement has an even harder impact. Baye Fall (Baay Faal in Wolof) is a subgroup of the Mouride brotherhood, Sufi Muslims, living in present Senegal and Gambia, named after their spiritual leader Ibrahima Fall.
“Maam Cheikh Ibrahima Fall, the father of the "Mystic of Work" reconciled the two entities worship and work, on a spiritual journey in full respect of their original meaning. Work, thanks to him, ceased to be a servitude, a routine, an act devoid of love, an effort to satisfy only the needs of the body. This sublime, adoration-work fusion created and taught by Maam Cheikh Ibrahima Fall, to the honor and glory of God, constitutes an indispensable reference today”. From GENTE D’AMORE LA MISTICA SUFI NELL’ISLAM AFRICANO by Serigne Babacar Mbow.
I look at their faces, at their arms, hands, feet and I try to imagine how their bodies and spirits can embody these contrasting values of work. How working the land in Europe under the most inhumane conditions could still facilitate a practice and experience of love? How to contain these extreme principles and practices?
How do you say arms in Wolof?
What could support or empower someone with short arms?
The term solidarity comes from the Latin solidus meaning solid; practicing solidarity as if being solid for someone who is not at that moment. I have a constant pain in my belly thinking about all that you have to endure, all this injustice, about meeting you here and returning to my comfortable home. I question a lot what my solidarity could look like, and I feel more fluid and porous than solid in your presence. Allowing myself to be impacted and transformed through this encounter, I confess to the team. I feel it is more about receiving from you and receiving you than giving anything or contributing to any sustainable change. I feel pessimistic, angry, deeply sad, yet hopeful when I meet you. And hope is labor, I tell them. The labor of engaging with ‘trouble’ and staying with it. The labor of unpacking the systems that sustain this injustice while being aware of our implicatedness in it.
Writing here is an attempt of ‘being with’ not ‘looking at’ others, being with questions and feelings. Words are containers of emotions and the emotional is political, and language is something holding the desire to bridge the gaps, to make sense of fragments while acknowledging its politics of exclusion, colonialism and violence. Writing I keep wanting to stop and say the word ‘justice’ out loud, typing it does not do. The single word to which my chest opens, my feet touch the ground and my body feels solid.
On Words What was the first Italian word you’ve learnt?
So when you are saying Ciao to someone you are actually saying: “I am your slave/servant” or “I am at your service”, they laugh as they reiterate.
Sanatoria What is this sanatoria about?
This amnesty, or ‘sanatoria’ in Italian, is an extraordinary measure that aims to regularize people without a valid permesso di soggiorno (work permit), who are employed in undeclared work in Italy. So basically, if you are undocumented and you report yourself to the relevant authorities with the support of your employer, you may get a valid permesso per motivi di lavoro (permit for work motives), to stay in Italy. This holds true only if the sanatoria is approved and you meet its requirements.
Cittadini Stranieri In this sanatoria, the migrant workers are referred to as ‘cittadini stranieri’, meaning ‘foreign citizens’. Is it that they inhabit foreignness forever, or is it a glitch of consciousness where they are acknowledged by the law as legitimate citizens because they live here and they constitute and contribute to this society like all other citizens which is practically not recognized in reciprocity as in having rights as citizens?
Sanatoria originates from Latin ‘sanare’ meaning to heal, to cure, and to restore to health. And I wonder what does it really take for the relationship between law and justice to be restored to health? Who and what needs to be cured? And how can we heal as a society accepting all forms of injustice and exploitation.
The Wake As I read this sanatoria with them, with our different voices and accents, as we try to give it a body with our evident presences, it remains tasteless, inert, and resistant. It is food out of date, hence we could not eat it together at Campobello. Instead, we would like to send it back. Back to the Italian citizens, and to probably most of us reading this text. To invite you to eat it because it is more a representation of us and not of them; the ‘us’ & ‘them’ that such a law establishes and confirms. https://portaleimmigrazione.eu/sanatoria-stranieri-2020-la-regolarizzazione-nella-gazzetta-ufficiale/ Let us put it on our different tongues together with the fruits and vegetables collected by our fellow humans, let us invite our bodies to transform it, claim it and re-write it. Let us do this labor of ‘restoring’, this labor of hope. We can bridge this gap between law and justice because we are recognized by the law - those who are outside of the law are always kept there by the same law that condemns them for being outside in the first place. Let us practice what Christine Sharpe beautifully calls the ‘Wake Work’ in her book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being.
Each of the book’s four chapters takes a term from the history of transatlantic slavery— The Wake, The Ship, The Hold, The Weather — and explores its persistence into the present day. The Wake has several meanings which Sharpe poetically unpacks and intertwines politically. The wake is the trail behind a ship on the water, it is the watch kept over the dead, and it is being ‘awake’! It is the afterlives of slavery, the time we could/should take to acknowledge, attend to and mourn the dead, but also mainly the oppressed before and after their death, and it is doing “wake work: as in being politically aware. “I am interested in ways of seeing and imagining responses to the terror visited on Black life,” writes Sharpe, “and the ways we inhabit it, are inhabited by it, and refuse it. I am interested in the ways we live in and despite that terror.” “Being in the wake, Sharpe tells us, is an ethical choice as much as a condition. It’s keeping watch as much as losing ground.”
The Hold is the space at the bottom of the ship where the enslaved people were kept during the transatlantic journey. Sharpe draws the continuous line of the violence inflicted on black bodies, arriving to the prisons and refugee camps in our contemporary times that are made full with black people. I think about Campobello and other camps of workers and refugees all over the world. And I embrace Sharpe’s play on the word again calling for the need to ‘hold’ each other. Anti-blackness exists not because of some vague fear of the unknown or mysterious viral tendency toward racism, but because of this specific history of Black diaspora and white capitalist violence, which Sharpe describes as the Weather, where these two continue to be interrelated. To Sharpe, the wake and "wake work" are sites of artistic production, resistance, consciousness, and for creating social justice and exploring the ethos of citizenship necessary for confronting white supremacy.
On Artistic Production Whom does this text serve?
In the process of this encounter, this writing, I am reflecting again about the role of art, my role as an artist, and the value of any artistic production in the shadow of injustice which has been represented and talked about in many forms for so many years. I am not convinced this text, or I, can do or change anything in the harsh reality of the people I worked with at Campobello. Coming back from there I almost want to give up, then I resolve to the thought that my politics is in the imagination, in the choices and considerations I am making along the way, and in the attempt to put language into a form that could be a counter-narrative to the dominant narratives that under- and misrepresent migrant workers, black bodies, refugees, and to produce a language where they can be more visible as people. I did not succeed in the time frame and conditions I am working in to include more of their voices, to make sure that they are ‘writing’ with me. But this is where I would like to continue.
How is his image unfolding in this writing? How do you imagine Mbiaye, Ablaye, Aliu, Waad, Cheikh, Ossman, Ablaye, and Talah? Am I contributing to a violent narrative that fixes them in certain images and ideas? Is it possible to give dignity to a place, to work, to people through this writing? Or does language sustain the existence of such places as Campobello?
This text is incomplete. The encounter is incomplete. And the narratives, the images, and any form of representation will always be incomplete and fragmented. I back this incompleteness while holding Mbaye, Ablaye, Aliuo, Wade, Cheikh, Usmane, Ablaye, Talla, Luca, Luna and myself.
Then Omar who is not in the team yet is sitting close-by says: “We are treated like slaves here.”
“This sanatoria does not change anything for us,” Talla explained. „It does not matter if we have documents or not, the work contracts are bad- we work thirty days they put on the contract seven and that is what they show to INPS: the national institute for social welfare. So the money of our pension is almost nothing. They pay us for more than the seven days which are in the contract in black- by hand- but they steal our future money. And anyways the pay is very low to the amount and intensity of work we do. And they avoid paying taxes and that is a problem for us when we need to renew our documents because it makes it look like that we have worked very little. We cannot complain or go to the police to say that this is not right. We have families to feed, we will lose the job. Someone else should go there to control and regulate.”
“La legge non vede la persona,“ says Usmane, „because if you’d see the person you cannot propose such a law which assumes that people are invisible! “