BARCELONA / SPAIN
PROJECT: THE BLANKET PROJECT
Las Ramblas, the tree-lined mall George Orwell described as Barcelona’s “central artery”, is usually clogged with tourists. Once the site of flower shops, Sunday strollers and elaborately costumed street performers, today it trades in vulgar T-shirts and gaudy souvenirs. Pushy waiters steer visitors towards kitschy restaurants serving oversized beer, sangria and tapas. The small flower shops have been taken over by a franchise. The street performers and artists who’d brightened up the spaces between kiosks have been regulated and relegated to a strategic spot at the far end. A few Sunday strollers remain, but they’ve been drowned out by the people pouring in from the luxury liners. It’s like this throughout the city centre, but it’s especially intense by the harbour. Over recent years, tourism investment has spilled over into its surrounding areas, displacing residents and businesses. In the process, it has become a major source of political conflict and mobilisation. But the people most vulnerable to these conflicts are also its most demonised subjects. Their mobilisations are criminalised by a dominant culture built on racist tropes, rumours and a pernicious media mythology. Intermittently throughout the day, Barcelona’s tourist areas are temporarily occupied by street vendors. West-African men stand behind knockoff football jerseys and D&G handbags, Bangladeshis next to umbrellas covered in shiny earrings. A handful of Senegalese women sell colourful jewellery to tourists, homemade food and cold, sugary hibiscus tea to the vendors. Accompanying each worker is an activist with a sign or banner. The most common slogan reads Sobrevivir no es delito. It is not a crime to survive. The Blanket Project documents their struggle. According to the author, the main outcomes of The Blanket Project will be a photography book documenting the lives, work and struggle of the street vendors and a documentary film exploring their social, political and economic dimensions.