“What’s life like abroad?” That’s the second most-frequently asked question I hear after returning from living in Barcelona for over three years.
The most frequently asked question? “Why did you come back?”
That’s the subject for another blog post.
What life is like abroad is what I will be writing about for now, and the answer is not so simple.
I thought to try to answer the question with words, but instead, I’ve chosen to answer it with pictures, beginning with one I captured during my first week in Barcelona:
That photo was taken just a few weeks after this one:
And seeing the similarity in appearance, if not in circumstance, brought to mind Juxtapozitions, a photo project which will be the first (of four) creative projects I plan to launch this year.
As the title suggests, Juxtapozitions visually juxtaposes life in the Philippines and Europe. (If you’re curious as to why I misspell the word, it’s merely for social media purposes. If you check the hashtag #juxtapozitions, majority of it will be my images. For whatever that’s worth.) Mostly from Barcelona, of course, because that’s where I livedmost of the time, but also other Spanish cities including Granada, Girona, andLa Palma. I also traveled to the Amsterdam, Venice, Paris, Prague, and Toulon a couple of times.
Taken over a period of around three years, most of these were photos weren’t taken with this photo project in mind. But after going over my visual memory bank, I repeatedly come across photos that had visual or contextual similarities–for example, female fishmongers in the La Boqueria and a wet market in Aurora, Baler:
Or the waiting area in the Oficina de Extranjeria de Barcelona (foreigners’ office) and the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila:
or Catalan children sitting on a curb during an FC Barcelona victory parade, and some Filipino boys just hanging out outside a sari-sari store during a holiday:
Incidentally, a week before I left Barcelona, the Spanish National Guard assaulted Catalans who were seeking independence from Spain, or at least the right to hold a referendum to do so. I found this ironic as around 150 years earlier, Spanish soldiers executed Filipinos fighting for independence from the Spanish empire :
In the photobook, I desaturate some of the photos to minimise the distinction between the two worlds.
So Juxtapozitions is one way I’ve chosen to answer the complex question, albeit to a very limited extent. By capturing parallels between life on opposite sides of the planet, a planet that seems to grow smaller with every leap forward in transport and information technology, I hope to provide some insight into what living in a culture and society that is so different–yet in some ways similar–to the one I grew up in, is like.
And if there’s any insight that I’ve gained during all those three years it would be these three:
People are inherently good
Anne Frank said it first. Without people I never would have made it. Not just once, but many times over. This doesn’t mean there aren’t absolute shits out there, there are, and keep away from them by all means. But they most likely didn’t start out that way. I’ve met some amazing and generous people, who didn’t know me at all and didn’t have anything to gain, but went out of their way, who offered help when I needed it so badly.
It takes three to five years
It takes at least three to five years to feel at home in a new place. If you’re lucky. Barcelona is a melting pot, like New York, Paris, or any other major metropolis, and I’ve encountered people from literally all over, but all of them come to the city to live, drawn by its warm climate, endless beaches, and vibrant culture. Some come to study then tried to transition to work, as I did. And like myself, many don’t speak Spanish, or Catalan for that matter. And language is a huge badge that declares you as either a local or a tourist. And there’s the matter of employment. I’ve lived with people who’ve moved from other Spanish cities to find work, only to go back because the financial crisis meant that lucrative opportunities were scarce all around. And friendships need time to grow. It’s more difficult to make friends when you’re older, people are busy or already have their sets of friends, and in a transitory city like Barcelona, people are coming and going all the time.
People are basically the same
Finally, despite everything, people are basically the same. We have the same motivations, the same wants, the same fears. Being indoctrinated at an early age I carried the burden of colonial mentality. I believed that everything from abroad was better, that people from Europe were the epitome of culture, intelligence, and sophistication. That they lived perfect, worry-free lives where they had free quality education, health care, fast internet, no crime or hunger, and everyone’s fart smelled like roses. Needless to say, it was a rather rude awakening.
And in the end, I suppose that’s what I’m trying to point out with Juxtapozitions, that we are the same, you and I. And that no matter where you go, your experience of a place is defined by the people that live in it.
To see previews of the Juxtapozitions photobook, you may check my Instagram or twitter under the hashtag #juxtapozitions.
If you’d like to order a copy, send me an email at pinoyartista(at)gmail. I accept payments via Paypal.
By what cannot be called anything other than a random series of events, I’ve just had my second solo exhibition in Jyväskylä, the 5th largest city in Finland.
Completed over the course of 17 days at the Ratamo Center for Printmaking and Photography–widely regarded as one of the top printmaking centers in Finland if not in the world, the exhibition, which was originally intended to be inaugurated in Barcelona, was held at Äkkigalleria–an award-winning nomadic gallery started by a Canadian-Finnish couple–from the 11th to 13th of September 2017.
“Jose Rizal is the national hero of the Philippines. He was sentenced to death by firing squad by the Spanish empire for exposing the injustices of the Spanish in the Philippines during their colonization of the archipelago for nearly four hundred years. He wrote “Mi Ultimo Adios” (My Final Farewell) the night before his execution by firing squad. It was his farewell to his family, friends, his country, his life. The poem had to be smuggled out of prison in a lamp.
Nearly three years ago I said farewell to my loved ones and my country to try to make a life for myself in Barcelona, Spain. During that time I have experienced a little of what it is like to be an OFW (overseas foreign worker, who make up nearly 40% of the Philippines’ GDP, and Barcelona has 30,000 registered Filipino immigrants), a tourist (Barcelona is full of them), and at times, as an undocumented immigrant, without any security or address, without any chance of becoming part of the Europe that I had traveled so far, invested and given up so much for.
The exhibition consists of the lines from the poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” printed on posters I’ve collected from the streets of Barcelona over the course of 24 months. These were created at Ratamo during a 3-week artist residency.”
Jose Gamboa is a visual artist, comic & storybook illustrator, writer and teacher from Manila, Philippines. He is currently artist in residency at the Ratamo Centre for Printmaking”
I thought that I’d share my experience of last Thursday’s terrorist attack on Catalunya, the 2nd in the history of Barcelona.
August 17, 2017 17.42 CCCB
It was around 14.30 and I was seated at the Arxiu at the CCCB, the Center for Contemporary Culture of Barcelona. Before that, I was at the library, another favourite hangout of mine, but I left as they close for the lunch hour. CCCB is in Raval, right next to Las Ramblas.
After doing some correspondence, I watched the Vice documentary Charlottesville: Race & Terror. Prior to this I had not read up much on what had happened, and needless to say, I was shocked.
Afterwards, I popped into fb and this was the first notification I saw:
Confused, I then opened the La Vanguardia website. And that’s when I realised what was going on. It was unreal, to first see video of a car ramming into the demonstrators in Charlottesville from a few days ago, to reading that a van had rammed into people, seeing the grotesque images that were taken not more than a few minutes ago, and not even a kilometre away.
Across from me, a girl who turned out to be an Italian architect doing her traineeship in Barcelona, asked me if I knew what was going on. I said I literally just read about it. She had gotten the news from her friends and family all the way in Italy. They were telling her so many details, and told her to stay put. She lived on a street perpendicular to Las Ramblas, not more than a minute away by foot, right on the street where the van struck some people and she was at a loss about what to do.
Being in the Arxiu, we were safe at least. Then security showed up and said that we all had evacuate, they were locking down the CCCB.
Considering she had nowhere to go, I said she was welcome to stay at my flat. She readily accepted, and we started walking, making sure to keep as far away from Ramblas as possible. All around, it was eerily quiet, and we could see people walking with their bags, like they were leaving the city.
19.30 Avinguda Diagonal
We walked past a crowd of people watching the news from the televisions in an appliance store window. I started to worry about the people I knew who were living and working in the area, which has a very large Filipino population.
We walked on for about 30 minutes until we reached Avinguda Diagonal, one of the main roads that cuts through Barcelona, and were met by this sight:
Cars were bumper to bumper. We wondered if they were all leaving the city.
Then I saw something that made me stop. Four men who looked middle Eastern had their hands behind their heads, and in front of them was a man wearing what appeared to be a kevlar vest and holding a gun out and pointing it at them. My companion freaked out and said, let’s pass somewhere else. I wanted to snap a photo but they had led them away, I don’t know if they arrested them or saw that they were innocent bystanders.
We later learned that there was a second attack, and that the attackers had made it Sant Just, a neighbourhood just next to mine.
She looks happy but appearances can be deceiving.
We got to my flat as it was getting dark. A few hours later, my flatmates, who had been driving to Barcelona during the attack after spending a few days in France, arrived. We had been communicating and I had told them it would probably be best if they didn’t come back tonight. Fortunately, they were able to drive into the city, keeping to the outskirts, without incident.
I don’t think any of us slept well that night. I certainly didn’t.
August 18 11.00 Les Corts
The next morning, I woke up and took the dog for a walk. Around 13.00, the Italian said that her flatmates said that Ramblas was no longer locked down, and that they were able to get home. We took the bus to Plaza Universitat, and walked to her flat. We were both still shaken up from the day before, and it was surreal to be back in that area and to see people walking around like nothing had changed. We stopped at the corner, just to look out on the Ramblas. We saw police, media, signs and police cordons.
We bid each other goodbye, and I decided to walk on Las Ramblas.
20.30 Las Ramblas
There were crowds huddled here and there, candles had been placed, some flowers, stuffed toys, and someone had left some paper and pens for people to write notes. Some had written on post it notes. There was a young man with his head bowed, staring at the candles with tears in his eyes. Seeing the stuffed toys, I figured that this was a place where one of the casualties, perhaps a child, had lost his or her life.
The tragedy, the injustice, of a life extinguished before its time, under such senseless circumstances began to hit me.
That’s when I started to feel the grief arise in me. I left a note, and decided to walk home.
August 19, 2017 16.00 Plaza Catalunya
The next morning, I began to make some signs. I had been thinking about the other attacks in Europe, such as the one in Paris, Belgium, Manchester, and I knew I wanted to make something to show solidarity with this tragedy.
It was a beautiful sight and a wonderful feeling. In highly developed societies, one of the biggest drawbacks is the lack of physical contact, and in a touristic place like Plaza Catalunya and Las Ramblas, you would very rarely speak to a stranger unless it was to ask them to take a picture or refuse a “cervesa beer.” And here, men and women, young and old, of different racial backgrounds were hugging each other. The antidote to terror, to fear, is love.
Yesterday there were just a few candles, flowers, and notes. Two days later, here is what the shrines looked like:
It showed how much love and solidarity people felt for the victims of this senseless tragedy. Indeed, it could have been any one of us. I left my signs in different shrines and biked home.
I saw photos and videos from that morning where thousands upon thousands had descended upon Plaza Catalunya, clapping and chanting, ‘No tengo miedo!’ (We are not afraid), and the the mimes and other buskers who lined Las Ramblas everyd, also paid tribute to the victims by joining the procession as the crowd made its way down the most famous boulevard in Barcelona. The Mayor of Barce, Ada Colau, posted this.
August 20, 2017 17.00 Las Ramblas
On the third day after the attack, Ramblas was seemingly back to normal. It was more crowded than usual, or so it seemed. People took photos of the shrines, selfies even, and there was a procession of Muslims, then later, Christians.
As I write this, it’s been five days since the multiple terrorist attacks in Catalunya. Things have seemingly gone back to normal. But there are still people in the hospitals, not all the perpetrators have been accounted for, and there are many more whose lives will never be the same again. And that includes the families of the attackers.
And the authorities are left with the question, how do we keep our cities safe from this type of extremism? This level of viciousness? Especially since the attackers were not foreign, they were young men who were part of Spanish society, who were integrated into Catalan culture, what makes people become this way?
It is with the appropriate amount of pleasure that I announce my first exhibition in Barcelona.
Spanning eighteen months and four countries, “What Am I Doing Here” is a retrospective of the works created over the past eighteen months since I arrived in Europe. It will include drawings, paintings, photographs, and screen and letterpress prints created in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, and Las Palmas.
The exhibition will be on the 15th of April, at l’Atelier, a small but cozy bakeshop in Carrer del Joncar 29, Poble Nou, at 19.00h.
Tengo el placer de invitarte a mi primera exposición en Barcelona.
“¿Por Qué Estoy Aquí?” es la primera exposición individual de José Gamboa en España. Una retrospectiva que abarca dieciocho meses y cuatro países, que incluye ilustraciones, impresiones de pantalla y tipografía, pinturas y fotografías.
Six days away, there is still a lot that needs to be done. And unlike other exhibitions I’ve organised before, this is my first solo show–literally: I have had to everything, from booking the venue, conceptualisation, curation, funding, promotion, framing, mounting, and more.
On July 19, pro surfer Mick Fanning was attacked by a shark during a competition heat at Jeffrey’s Bay in South Africa. Here’s what happened:
It hasn’t been the first time a surfer has survived a shark attack–as one-armed surfer Bethany Hamilton who had her arm bit off by a tiger shark, and Shannon Ainslie, who after being attacked by TWO great whites simultaneously, has got to be one of the luckiest people alive–but it is the first time it has happened in full view of thousands, maybe millions of viewers.
The Creative (detail)
by Jose Gamboa
56 x 20 cm
acrylic on canvas
For the past three and a half weeks, I’ve been on a social media sabbatical–more specifically, a facebook fast.
This wasn’t the first time I’ve gone on a facebook fast or been, to practice my castellano, incommunicado.
A couple of years ago, feeling a bit overwhelmed with how much the internet was taking up my time, and how it was affecting me psychologically, I decided to unplug once a week. That meant that every Sunday I didn’t go online at all. Then, I decided to try getting off facebook for a week.
Then it extended to a month. Then two. It is sort of like freediving, seeing just how far you can push yourself. In the end, I stayed off facebook a year and a half.
Eventually, reality pulled me back in because I started working as a freelance community manager, and the bogus account I had created to manage pages was taken down (big surprise since the account was named Katherine Upton and had only photos of the same). Until that point, even though I was managing several pages, my personal account was deactivated, and I had no connection with my 150 or so facebook friends during this time (I also tried to limit my connections to a minimum, believing Malcolm Gladwell’s “Rule of 150” from The Tipping Point where he purports that people have the capacity to have no more than 150 genuine connections. But believe me, I didn’t really have a whole lot of friends to add back then anyway. Today, things have improved for me somewhat socially, but I still don’t consider myself to have been blessed with a large number of true friends.
For some reason, being reachable never appealed to me. As a result, I only got a cellphone in 2008 when they handed me one at work, signed up for facebook in 2009, five years after the social media giant had already been available. At the height of their popularity, I didn’t sign up for Friendster, Myspace or Multiply, and consequently didn’t feel any remorse when these platforms went under, taking people’s precious photos and writing down with them. Today, I still own the same phone I bought five years ago, and in 2013 I bought a secondhand iPad 2, which was my first ever smart device. On it I installed the messaging app Viber, but because it is not supported on the iPad, I never got on WhatsApp, simply because I didn’t like the name or interface, and I thought mistakenly that Viber was sufficient, which was wrong because the former apparently is the preferred app of 99% of instant messenger users. Later, facebook outsourced their messaging interface, forcing everyone to install a 3rd party app which sucked.
Now, after moving to Barcelona and doubling my number of facebook friends, I decided for a second time, to go on a facebook fast. Again, it was partly because I was starting to feel overwhelmed, and I thought it was time to pull the needle from the vein.
Also, I was simply acting in accordance to my nature. I really think that facebook is too powerful, and can dictate whatever they want and the masses will follow, and that despite Zuckerberg having the best intentions, what happens in the future when he eventually goes? The people left running the biggest repository of private information may not be so ethical. It could already be happening. I had dragged my feet getting into the social media bandwagon, and now I was trying to get out before I got in too deep.
A third reason is because I think one of the biggest drawbacks of social media is narcissism and shortened attention spans. Facebook has spawned the selfie, the throwbacks, the oh-so-precious relationship and status updates that have become drugs for our egos. For an introvert like myself, I find it anathema to overshare, to imagine oneself so important as to matter, to be the voice of reason in a s0-called discussion about what colour a dress is or whatever controversy is currently trending.
Ironically, I have this blog and I have shared quite a bit on it as it is. But this is not for likes.
Furthermore, studies have shown that overuse of social media foments envy, lowered self-esteem, and for younger people, hinders academic adjustment.
It is such a breath of fresh air when you get off the timesuck that is facebook, or social media in general. The day seems longer, there is time to do relatively more important things, read a book, reminisce–not always a good thing, and to have–can you imagine?–real life conversations.
Here’s what unplugging has taught me:
1. You learn who your real friends are
This is the biggest insight I gleaned from my 2nd facebook fast. Of course, living abroad, I told my family that I would be going on a social media sabbatical, but I didn’t tell anybody else. Coincidentally, this was right about the time that Lent started, although I didn’t realise it at the time, and my sister joked that being raised Catholic, religious observance is in my theological body clock.
Even for the first facebook fast, I didn’t post an update notifying my adoring public that I would be deactivating. That would be contradictory to the entire exercise.
A day after I got a text from a couple of people asking what happened to my account. And I also started looking for emails and mobile numbers, alternative ways of getting in touch, and those that I wanted to get in touch with, I did so through these channels. Many were perturbed, others simply took it in stride. But facebook can be such a mindfuck–pardon my french–that you really start to get deluded into thinking those likes mean something, that your opinion matters, that your wall is your pulpit, your microphone for spewing your unimportant garbage into the world. Facebook doesn’t even show it to everyone unless you pay them for reach.
So I realised who actually wanted to talk to me, who I wanted to stay connected with, not just the random like or share. Having 300 or so ‘friends’ on facebook was in the end, a meaningless number, and by my count, I had between thirty to forty real friends. More to the point, it isn’t about being a hermit (something I’ve been called more than once), it’s about realising that you can be in touch in so many other ways, and that while social media may be the easiest and currently the most prevalent, it isn’t necessarily the best.
2. There is more time in the day than you realised
When I started to unplug I would leave my phone at home, or just let the battery run out. I stuck to a rigid schedule for checking email, even using a plug-in that would block my email screen every half hour. Whereas prior to deactivating I would log into facebook the first thing when I booted up the computer, or years later when I got a tablet, was the first thing I would instinctively check in the morning and the last thing before going to bed. Even Instagram at one point started to get too much, but at least it is not so intrusive.
Studies show that Filipinos spend an average of 4 hours a day on social media. The rest of the world probably goes to about 2 to 3…but nonetheless, that adds up. There are a lot of telling statistics on Tech Addiction. Life is brief enough as it is, and I refuse to squander any more time than I already have.
Without facebook, I found life went at a much more leisurely pace: cooking, cleaning, going for strolls, and doing errands, writing, and getting a lot of work that I had been putting off thanks to the addictive distractions of facebook, twitter, instagram, pinterest, tumblr, etc, done.
3. It gets easier
Like any substance you abuse, be it food, alcohol, tobacco, heroin, going cold turkey on facebook is extraordinarily difficult. The first time around, I had a bad case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Nobody invited me to anything, simply because they couldn’t add me to an event. I would hear conversations about this post, that comment, events, and hadn’t the faintest clue about what was going on. I started to feel like a non-person.
But after a while, as I mentioned in No. 1, people start to come around. They find other ways of reaching you, they pass the message through everyone around you. This was similar to when I refused to buy a cellphone. People would reach me through other people’s phones, and I eventually started using other people’s phones to text and call others, which of course, didn’t sit well with the one who owned the phone and had to pay the bill. I also learned that there are actually people who are affronted by or suspicious of people who don’t have a mobile phone or facebook account.
After a month I was relishing the exhilarating feeling of not having to check my wall, or needing to respond to friend requests from strangers or people you really didn’t want to add, or facestalking that cute girl from the bar, or keeping up with whatever people were concerned about, eating, wearing, or hawking.
4. You need a substitute
But it isn’t enough just to deactivate facebook. Or not log into social media…on our personal smart devices these are always on, so unless you adjust the settings (or delete the app) the notifications will keep clamouring for your attention like a spoiled child every three seconds. Like alcoholics or drug addicts, if you don’t substitute the destructive habit with a positive one, you just tend to find another millstone to hang around your neck to replace the previous one. Aside from social media, the internet is in itself a huge landscape for you to simply lose yourself in. Believe me, I know. I’ve tried pretty much all sorts of platforms, wasted hours in discussion boards, watching TV series, days playing computer games, and have gone on youtube video binges, and even email suddenly becomes extremely interesting when you are so used to being in front of a screen that it is your default state, regardless of whether there is something to do or not.
The point of unplugging is to preserve your limited time and bandwidth and devoting these to worthwhile projects and activities. So in the morning, instead of tapping on that notification, do a few stretches instead. Instead of checking twitter twenty times a day, do it only when you’re boiling tea or making coffee, and set a timer. Get a limited data plan. Or better yet, don’t get one. I don’t have 3G on my tablet, which means I cannot always be connected and have to find that modern day oasis: The Wifi hotspot.
Similar to Tim Ferris’ advice in The Four-Hour Workweek, people should go on a low information diet. This means you limit the amount of input to your brain, thereby saving your brain capacity for only important matters. Don’t open email from other people first thing when logging in. This only puts you at the mercy of other people’s agendas. Instead, send those emails that you need to send, setting a timer for a half-hour or so, and log off once you’ve completed the most important email tasks. Repeat in the afternoon. Don’t read shit novels, magazines, listen or look at advertising, don’t memorise useless information, write it down, don’t read messages right when they arrive, or answer the phone during a meal.
So what do you do instead with the extra two to four hours in your day? That’s your call; you could take up a hobby, or learn something you’ve always wanted to, like dancing, but you will be surprised at what you are able to accomplish once you’ve taken control of your daily routine.
So if you’re considering going on a social media sabbatical, here are some suggestions:
Realise whether or not you are spending an inordinate amount of time on the computer
Start weaning yourself off by checking email, social media, a fixed number of times a day. Try running an errand without bringing your device with you.
Intentionally do not check your email/facebook/instagram/twitter the first thing when you wake up and the last thing at night. Place the device in another room, or at least not by the bedside table when you sleep. Place it on silent at night.
Pick a day to unplug. Saturday or Sunday usually works best.
If you decide to deactivate, try shooting for a week and see how it feels. Go longer if you feel like it.
Disable notifications or better yet, sign out or delete the apps. Take them off your home screen.
Find a substitute. If your mornings are spent browsing social media, write instead. In the evenings, reading a book is a great way to relax your brain for deep sleep.
If you have kids, you can install plug-ins to limit their time online, or this is also a great strategy for the more technologically-adept parent:
To finish, I’m not saying facebook is bad, not at all, and just like computers and the internet, it serves a purpose. Google, Wikipedia, Youtube, these have become indispensable, or at least, extremely useful in education, research, finding what’s showing at the cinema and how to breakdance. Social media has brought people closer together in ways that the post, beepers, cellphones, skype, instant messaging did to some degree…but in a more immediate, (somewhat) enjoyable, and visual way.
Nowadays, a community page is mandatory for all businesses and organisations, and I know that it can be useful. As an artist, I have experienced firsthand how the internet has turned the art game on its head, taking away some–not all–the power from the institutions (galleries, curators, museums, auction houses). It is important for anyone with their own business, but especially those in the creative fields to have an online presence, be it a website, online portfolio, or a pinterest account (which I will never ever sign up for. Ever).
18.09.17 Update: 2015 –Opened a Pinterest account 😑
Approaching the end of my social media sabbatical, the urge to stay off facebook for good is really strong. But we’ll see how it goes.