SEARCHING FOR HERITAGE
Being born in Italy to a Moroccan family, my parents’ country of origin has always felt foreign to me. I would travel there every year to visit relatives, and I would experience it as an unfamiliar land to be discovered, both from a geographical and a cultural point of view. This journey of discovery started to have a direct influence on my identity and, in order to take full agency over it, I decided to make it part of my practice as a photographer.
Searching for Heritage started in 2015 as a visual research project on Moroccan youth, a demographic currently torn between the desire to blindly follow European trends and the pull of rediscovering and acknowledging the traditions passed down by the older generations. This discrepancy is also reflected in the environment and landscape around them, where a crude juxtaposition of big cities and dishevelled rural areas creates a contrasting tapestry.
Through this project, I set out to investigate my own roots through the faces and future prospects of younger Moroccans, portraying those that have a desire to emigrate to Europe in hope of better living conditions and those that instead prefer to stay and connect on a deeper level with their past, religion and family as elements of a collective identity.
This duality that strongly characterises my project is the same that I recognise in my identity. Searching for Heritage has become my own personal exploration of what my life could have been if I were born in Morocco and grew up there; an alternate reality that I have slowly started to build up and is still not entirely revealed.
As a child of the diaspora, no formal institution ever introduced the idea that our history and identity might extend beyond being a descendent of slavery. Ghost Island, seeks to build an epistemological framework and metaphor with which to document and process the dynamic and unseen influences of Caribbean identity; the Black imagination. By visually deconstructing New World-imagination, Ghost Island seeks to uncouple the Black and/or Caribbean narrative from the colonial sphere.
Ghost Island also stands for Suriel's own insular background in Saint Martin, and connotes the New World-condition of complex overlapping histories and immateriality. Suriel proposes that the imaginative lens is arguably the best with which to view how folkloric figures act as an agent in history and animate cultural memory. As a documentary of imagination, Ghost Island posits the Black subconscious as a device for reconfiguring collective memory and reclaiming histories.
Importantly, Suriel’s process also includes interviews with people as a means of visual and empirical research. For Ghost Island, it is crucial that Suriel meets people and gets involved with the community on a more personal level. This is executed by means of audio-visual recording. In this way, oral story telling will always be the point of departure of his research/project. The objective of this research is to understand how the local populations visualize their ancestors, deities, and folkloric figures. With Ghost Island, Suriel tries to answer the three fundamental questions that underlie both his artistic research practice and his own ontology: What constitutes a Caribbean and/or Black identity? How can we imagine this identity? What cognitive tools can be developed to engage with Caribbean/Black identity?