In the Farhana border crossing one can easily observe the terms in which the contemporary colonial encounter is taking place in the context of a globalized and neoliberal world order. Farhana is part of the highly contested border of the fortress Europe has chosen to become: the creation of the European Economic Area and the Schengen space with their violent dynamics of inclusion and exclusion has made journeys much more dangerous and even lethal.
The border police of the Spanish enclave of Melilla in Northern Africa routinely check for cars used by people-smuggling mafias operating on both sides of the barbed wire fence. Once a victim of these traffickers is found inside a car, the driver is arrested and will most likely face a minimum four-year custodial sentence. These images have been taken in the course of these operations and then made available to news agencies and newspapers through the online archive of the police. Although I have permission to access the archive, I have instead chosen to collect them from the local and national newspapers that have published news related to these police operations.
Selecting this place of appropriation allows me to make reference to the process of production, distribution, and consumption of these photographs. In fact, the time of the images in this project is not the time of the specific police operations, but that of its signifying practice in society. The original currency of these images seems to be negotiated between its intentional referent, the documentation of the operations against human smugglers, and what is later placed in a symbolic regime of representation: a discursive construction of migrants as intruders, visually trapped in their rites of passage and intensively articulated in the body of the news story and later in many comments left by readers.
It is important that these images can circulate again and be reconsidered without the mediation of the institutions that produced, disseminated, and prescribed their value. In fact, putting them together in a new context without their institutional badges allows new meanings to emerge, breaking away from their single, iconic, and illustrative currency they originally had in the newspapers. Beyond the debris left behind by customs and forensic probes and the inventory of alterations made to vehicles, these images consistently reveal re-enactments, performances, fractured representations of the body, erased faces, empty spaces, traces of presences, absences, encounters, relief, and trophies.
There seems to be a selective right to the representation of the bodies of these victims being exerted in these police images. The traffickers are always kept outside the constructed frame of the scene and only their victims occupy the reading surface of the image. The camera sifts through these wreckages to show these people hidden, twisted, bent out of shape with their faces placed outside the frame. Alternatively, a black bar is placed on their eyes in postproduction to protect their identity. Preventing an encounter with their eyes, their faces and the dignity of their bodies allows a new function to emerge beyond identification and reminder of police power: to define these migrant bodies.
In conclusion, the intention is to reassess both this vernacular practice and my artistic intervention within a critical framework in order to draw attention over any illusion of transparency they might convey. One witnesses a strong sense of agency in these victims of trafficking, a determined migratory project and their resistance to discriminatory entry policies. These journeys are indeed a social, economic, and political phenomenon, but also the object of vigorous forces claiming its hegemonic representation.