In her project a Brazilian photographer shows the life of the first generation of Afro-French woman, grown in European culture, but bearing in mind traditions and native way of thinking. Through reflecting about the damaged self-identity and the significance of personal choice, Carolina Arantes illustrates the life of incomers in Paris.

I have always felt myself French, but they have remind me so much that I’m not French that I feel not French. I said, “I am Ivorian,” and, by this time, I hadn’t set foot on the Ivory Cost yet. There is a lot of schizophrenia having these double cultures. <…> We all have a moment that we deny France. I have denied France for a while” –

This is a comment of 32–year–old French politician Fatou Meité, who comes from Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire. The quote unfolds the photography project “First Generation” by Carolina Arantes which received Firecracker Photographic Grant in 2017 and is still in process, as it gets support and positive feedback from the leading cultural institutions. For example, the director of the British journal of photography, Brett Rogers, stresses the topic of the photographs which corresponds with the concept of competition: “Carolina’s win is a refreshing return to Firecracker’s original documentary roots. Her sensitive and considered approach to “First Generation” shines a bright and positive light on the subject of migration, at a time where this issue is often misunderstood. We are delighted to be supporting this work and look forward to seeing how it develops”.

What is it about

A refilling photography collection discloses lives and identities of the first generation of Afro-French woman. On the pictures one can see already grown-up girls, who were born in France as the children of a surge in immigration from Africa, which took place between 1975 and 1980. One of the immigration prerequisites might be the official acceptance of incomers in France due to the economic crisis. As a result, the rate of people from African countries and Muslim World rose significantly: they were given French citizenship and opportunities to permanently settle in France with their families. However, in the meantime the incomers had to face with such problems as low employability, tough living conditions in the suburbs of Paris, and, which might be the most complicated, the loss of self-identification.

“There are almost no Africans or blacks on television or in politics, – said one of the project participants, Ms. Mbonou, who started her own clothing boutique in Paris, – It’s like we are here, but we don’t really exist”.

It’s like we are here, but we don’t really exist.

That is what Carolina Arantes explores in her project. She aims to show the issues of double-counciossness, the conflict between the liberal European and the traditional native cultures in those incomers. The author herself says about the collection: “I was intrigued to know how the first generation is dealing with these mixed African and European traditions. I wanted to understand how these young adults constructed a social identity in a such a cosmopolitan place”. Moreover, the subject of the topic touches Carolina personally, as she, firstly, has a heritage of Lebanese, Germanic and French roots, and secondly, being born in Minas Gerais in Brazil, she now works and lives in Paris.

Although the project is dedicated to the first generation of immigrants in whole, primarily it is referred to the tough conditions of woman. Photos mostly depict kids, family and woman in their everyday life, and, as Carolina points out herself, answers to the question “what is to be a woman” while being in two cultures at the same time. “For the black women of France, conquering their place in society is an individual and persistent movement that constantly met with obstacles on sexism and on prejudice. Although they face the same troubles as all women in modern times, they have also to face the historical opposition force of a recent colonization social mentality and have to overcome economic and lack of education problems that result from their parent’s immigration origin”.

Coming back to smaller topics, according to the photographer, Afro-French woman are facing such issues, as family questions.  For example, in African cultures polygamy and family abandonment by father or the husband is quite frequent and accepted. Such concept of living after immigration to another country provokes difficulties for the feminine counterparts, as they have to raise children alone. Often they have to deal with it with very low incomes.

In the interview to the New York times the Brazilian photographer says: “These girls are creating hair salons for black women and making clothing using African fabric with modern tailoring”. As there are so few black pop stars in France, many of them had to find cultural idols, references in the United States to keep up-tp-date and to have a picture to associate themselves with. Thus, they used the values and traditions of different countries to be able to identify themselves.

Thus, the first generation of Afro-French women, shown in photography, is compressed from both sides. On the one hand, there are sociocultural settings, which formed those woman and which do not correspond with their modern way of living. On the other hand, low living conditions do not allow them to have more freedom, which they require.

Carolina tells as well about her feelings while completing the project. What she found the most important, “the greatest lesson” which she learnt, “it is the condition of whiteness, and the historical power process that was forged for whiteness to dominate the world”. In this phrase the author underlines her ability and the right to chose in comparison with woman, whom she met during the work.

“The lesson allowed me – a passing white person – to localise myself and be conscious of my liberty to choose how to behave and get rid of the values that I never believed in. It’s a really beautiful lesson, and, socially, very urgent as well”.

Who is the author

Carolina Arantes is an independent photographer and journalist working in Brazil and France. She was born and grew up between countryside city Uberaba and the megapolis of Sao Paulo. After gaining degree of Social Communication Journalism at the Catholic University of Sao Paulo, she got the master in Cultural Project Development at Barcelona University. Her publications can be found in such magazines, as GEO De, New York Times, Le Monde, CNN. Her social photography projects, such as “Living to Leave” about retirement houses or the archive with photographs after Charlie Hebdo shooting were awarded with prices.

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