Post-colonialism and the impact on arts culture in Lisbon

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In June I set out to Lisbon, Portugal in the hopes of documenting the lives of Black people and People of Colour (PoCs) there. In the initial stages of my project my focus was on the colonial history of the Portuguese in their capital and how that continues to resonate within Black and Brown communities today. I aimed to use the history to explain the current state of Lisbon’s arts culture that seemed to have a heavy influence from Africa and Asia. I chose to investigate the arts and culture as it is a form of self-expression for people and what I’m interested in. This varies from music, performances, art and more.

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I had a number of reservations before I went. First, I was an outsider coming from London where arguably there is much more space for Black and Brown people to explore their identities through the arts. In a way I was coming from a place of cultural privilege. From my research, I gathered PoCs in Lisbon exhibited their exploration of identity through the arts in a similar way to London but on a much smaller scale. Second, Lisbon has been described as a breakthrough region for people from London to escape to when pursuing arts based career paths. Because of this I was worried I would find a replicated cultural dynamic in Lisbon because people from London had just moved their ideas abroad.

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Arriving in Lisbon I made a few observations. Most of the PoCs I encountered in my first few hours there worked service jobs. Cleaners, hotel staff etc. I also felt like until it was clear I was from the UK I went largely unnoticed in Lisbon: I am of mixed heritage and because of this arguably Afro-Portuguese passing.

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As my trip continued, the presence of Blackness was mixed with something else – a distancing or an othering. Not fully embraced but something that had grown to be accepted over time. People of the African and Asian diaspora have been historically displaced and then forced to live on the fringes and I got a clear sense of this in Lisbon. The same issues of colonialism that impact Britain seemed prevalent in Portugal as well. The most shocking moment of my trip that highlighted these similarities was witnessing the abuse of black man the courtyard of a police station by policemen. Police brutality, inequality and racism reflected the ingrained white supremacy is still apparent in institutions in the West today.

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However, as a result of marginalizing the Black and People of Colour communities has emerged a sub-culture that is intriguing and unique. I’m sure there was much more to be discovered but in my short time there the street art, music and nightlife indicated something else had been born as a result of pushing these people to edges of communities. Small pockets have been created as an expression of these identities in the form of art and this was comforting to me.

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