We are many others A vision of urban marginality
Text by Mar Gámiz
Just like Tzvetan Todorov delimited his approach to others in his study on the conquest of America based on three axes, Gisela de León did the same to create We are many others. She chose a unit of time: three years of research, a place: the Insurgentes roundabout, and a unit of action: the perception of urban marginality. The difference in her approach was that Gisela also included herself as a subject of study and found two other fundamental axes to obtain the comprehension of others:
- A unit we will call “epistemological”, whose substance is made up of prejudices.
- Another unit we’ll call “ethical,” which is based on adopting the “correct” attitude – as Gisela calls it – and that has a lot to do with respect.
A student of Visual Communications, Gisela sought to initially represent chaos. She didn’t really know how or where, but she got to the roundabout, a place in Mexico City renown for hosting a variety of urban tribes (emos, punks, darks) due to its proximity to the Zona Rosa neighborhood (known for being an amicable place for the LGBT community), and because in the surroundings there are people that from an early age, have made the street their home for different reasons. Essentially, the roundabout is a metro station and more recently, a metrobus station as well. The floating population is very high, even more when contrasted with the residents that – due to the marginality – are daily witnesses of the chaos. To understand their look is to understand a part of that chaos.
According to Gisela, one of the main obstacles she had to overcome during her research were the prejudices, hers as much as others’ towards her. She went from wanting to “assist” (help, rescue from poverty) the inhabitants of the roundabout, to realizing that “they lived in those conditions out of their own will;” she reached a third stage where she wanted to be more objective and see the situation in perspective. By then she felt that a large part of her prejudices had been, if not shot down, greatly transformed. She didn’t pity them or was scared of them. With time, the coexistence and the desire to establish a relationship developed into what she called “the right attitude,” one that allowed her to value her prejudices and was made up of: openness, honesty (with oneself as well as others), humility and respect. “Join them as if you were one of them,” establishing limits and borders that had to do with little exposure, that any woman, in any place, adopts.
They did the same: out of curiosity, they faced their prejudices and accepted her in their circle. At times there were some that thought that she wasn’t more than the “blondie” that went to take photos for her article which caused situations of aggression, that eventually ended through coexistence.
Gisela experienced other types of personal relationships where violence is expressed in a different way, in a more visible kind of violence: how do you react when a pregnant woman is being beaten or kicked? How do you cope with the ravages of social indifference if not by diluting them with drugs and alcohol? The same goes for a different configuration of the living space: there are no divisions between the place where you eat, where you have sex or where you defecate. She faced reality with them: there are no real rehab centers, no real opportunities for people that live in that situation.
Little by little, she took photographs as they began feeling comfortable with each other. She was able to capture images, from the inside, of a group that is oftentimes ignored by the thousands of people that go through the Insurgentes roundabout. She portrayed images of her new friends’ lives: they posed with their girlfriends and boyfriends, in their favorite meeting spot, doing what they enjoy doing.
In the end, once the book was published, Gisela showed it to them. They recognized themselves and asked if they could write something in it: one of them wrote a letter to the daughter he has met because of his time in jail (he wrote it below his girlfriend’s photograph); another one wrote a few lines to Gisela, and yet another wrote to the public, specifically to this parents. A cycle that began three years earlier came to an end.
Behind each of the photos of We are many others is a story of comprehension. They shift your gaze towards what you do not want to see and sensitize the spectator with this reality. Ideally, Gisela explains, whoever looks at them tries – to the extent of their possibilities – to create opportunities so that the inhabitants of the roundabout overcome indifference, the main detractor of human relationships.