Europe Edition

2024 number 4

I am identity question


Fotografía de Mey Rahola

Mey Rahola, The new photographer

Uprooting by obligation

Following the retrospective dedicated to the photographer Mey Rahola (1897-1959) at the National Art Museum of Catalonia (MNAC), it is appropriate to echo some sociological criteria about her photographic material. Rahola’s realism, appealing to the everyday, helps us to understand her personal -but at the same collective- experiences, with a feminist and emancipating look for the time. Rahola was recognized during the Second Republic as a reference for the modern women, although a few years later, as a result of the coup d’état, her career was cut short and she was forced into exile in France.

However, her photographic repertoire goes beyond the dimension of personal and family expatriation. Just before embarking on this journey into exile, Rahola reflected in peacetime two worlds that, from a sociological point of view, are antagonistic: the portrait of women playing sports in Cadaqués in which she is framed, contrasts with the poverty of the shanty town in which the other women, the gypsies, lived. The first ones were probably part of a wealthy elite who, upon fleeing into exile, did not experience the same miseries, difficulties and rejection of the newcomers, as evidenced by the photographer during her stay in Lyon. On the other side, the second ones, whose rights have been violated throughout history because of their double condition of women and gypsies, illustrate the phenomenon of social exclusion. Persecuted as a community, they have been forced to undergo migratory processes without having their refugee status recognized.

However, in this sense there is something that unites both groups of women: they were all treated as economic migrants, making invisible their real situations as exiles – in the case of the first ones – asylum seekers – in the case of the secon ones, victims of persecution or serious threats.

In general, the concept of human mobility groups different categories, according to whether they are “forced” or “voluntary” in nature. In the case of the first, we find “refugees”, “displaced persons” and “political exiles” and they are described as forced, because they include all those persons who are victims of persecution or serious threat that endangers their lives. The profile of refugees therefore corresponds to citizens who suffer violence – often institutional – for religious, ethnic, national identity, sexual orientation or freedom of expression reasons, which is denied to them; often the victims turn to third countries to request the well-known right of asylum. The most common procedure adopted by receiving countries is to place them in camps, usually set up near the border area to avoid the perception that they are being allowed to enter the country and to give the impression of temporariness. Unfortunately, this “temporary” provision, in reality, turns into an entrenched and long-lasting phenomenon, which far from solving the underlying problem, creates a new one, a kind of ghetto.

On the other hand, within the “forced” mobilities we find political exiles, who are also forced to expatriate against their will because of their political significance in their country. They are not always recognized as victims in the new State in which they settle; instead of welcoming them, they are treated as economic migrants, as was the case with most of the Catalans exiled in France.

It is curious how the migratory phenomenon is considered a “voluntary” mobility, as opposed to the previous categories. However, taking into account that today most immigration is explained by strictly economic causes and legitimate improvement of their quality of life, the existence of ideological criteria behind any classification and conceptual definition becomes evident. Only in this way can we understand why, institutionally, it has been decided to perceive all migratory movements as voluntary acts.

Silvia Cabezas / PhD in Sociology and diploma in management of political and electoral communication from the Autonomous University of Barcelona. She is a collaborating professor at the UOC and Associate in the departments of Sociology and Social Sciences of the UB and at the Carlos III University of Madrid, respectively. collaborator of the Observatori Crític dels Mitjans de Comunicació and member of the research group Temporalitats: Arts, Comunicació i Penament.

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