Ahlam Shibli احلام شبلي

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© Ahlam Shibli


Barcelona, 2007
series of 29 photographs, 38 x 57.7 cm; 57.7 x 38 cm, gelatine silver prints; chromogenic prints

This work examines the relationship between immigrant care workers and their employers in Barcelona.

The population of Barcelona is getting older, women in the younger generation work outside the house, and yet at the same time strong family traditions as well as economic and social limitations make it undesirable to send the older generation to care homes. A massive influx of immigrants provides unskilled labour including domestic work at affordable rates.

Within the past ten years house-cleaning has been augmented by care work. The phenomenon of employing workers to care for old people and children has spread from the affluent to the middle and even working classes, and previous waves of migrants from the interior of Catalonia, from Andalusia, and in the 1970s and 1980s from the Philippines, have been replaced by immigrants from Spanish-speaking South America, and recently from Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet Union.

Due to the need for dependability some domestic workers are paid the minimum wage or even more. If, however, they are in Spain without papers, they are particularly vulnerable to exploitation. Whatever the terms, in most cases it is the generation of sons and daughters that pays for the care of the elderly, even though the State is starting to realise the social advantages of home care for elderly people.

Domestic workers may be on their own and thus live in a private space in their employers' home, or they may have immigrated with their families and work during the day, returning home at night. Accordingly they might attempt to establish themselves in the suburbs of Barcelona or to support their family back home, including their own children who might be living with their grandparents, and eventually buy property or set up a business in their home country.

Research provided by Joan Roca i Albert, Hiuwai Chu, and Cristina Martínez

Dependence was commissioned by the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) in 2007 for the exhibition "Universal Archive. The Condition of the Document and the Modern Photographic Utopia", curated by Jorge Ribalta and presented in the following year.