A story of migration

Framegrab from Wave short film.
Framegrab from Wave short film. / Rosa Cristina
  • Justin and Sonia have been using the theme of migration and the Malaga coastline for their project

Justin Smith, 48, originally from Pembrokeshire in Wales, and Sonia Janin, 40, from Lyon, France are a husband and wife team of artists who have chosen the town of Casares in Malaga to make their art.

They first met 15 years ago in London, where Sonia had moved from France five years previously and Justin was also living. In London they both had their own, separate art studios, but since they came to Spain 18 months ago their work has also merged.

Justin and Sonia have been using the theme of migration and the Malaga coastline for their project, Littoral, which combines Justin's video work, Sonia's photography and their shared interest in site-specific installations. “We have a shared history of migration related to Spain,” explains Sonia, whose grandmother, Rosa, now 101, is originally from Las Palmas. As a young girl Sonia explains that her family emigrated to Morocco and later, during the 1930s, Rosa went to live in France. “That is how my family ended up being French.” Sonia says that she has “always been attracted to Spain” for that reason.

Andalusian connections

Justin also has a long history with Spain, as his parents, who have now both passed away, lived here for 30 years. “They were really integrated into Spanish life and spoke the language,” he says. The couple's research project goes by the name RosaCristina, after Sonia's grandmother and Justin's mother respectively.

The couple say that their own family connections with this part of Spain, as well as the stories that appear on the news about African migrants here, and Andalucía's long history of migration, going back as far as the Phoenicians, Romans and Moors, have been a huge influence on their work.

“It's important that people don't just see the Costa del Sol as a holiday zone, but as somewhere that has always been affected by migration,” they explain.

Although the initial idea for Littoral was not political, Justin says that a lot of the art they have produced as part of the project has “become a political message”.

They believe that one of the items they found among the “flotsam and jetsam” washed up during the 2017 storms was part of a boat which could have been used to carry migrants from Africa. “It seemed sturdy and too big to be a child's toy. It was a dark moment which really made us think about what this coastline witnesses,” they explain.

In fact a video produced by Justin following the 2017 storms, titled Wave has been selected to appear at the Liquidscapes international conference at Dartington Hall in Devon in June this year. The short film combines scenes of the Mediterranean Sea during last year's storms with startling statistics on migrants trying to reach Spain from Africa. Justin obtained the data from the Missing Migrants project.

Migrant crisis

“It's hard to get real information on the migrant crisis,” says Sonia and Justin confesses that he was “shocked by the amount of people who try to come across”.

Liquidscapes is a UK art exhibition and conference which explores how artists use water in their work and Justin and Sonia have been invited to speak about their work as part of the event.

They couple say they feel they are integrating well into their new home and have made both “Spanish and expat friends”. Many of their neighbours are Spanish and they are having Spanish lessons. Having finished what they wanted to achieve with the Littoral project, they now want to try to get galleries in the province to exhibit their work and make more contacts with artists and art spaces in Andalucia.

“We see ourselves here for the foreseeable future,” they admit. “We love it here and find it very inspiring.”

They say that their work has changed considerably since they moved to Malaga and have a long list of projects they want to work on in the near future. “Something around Brexit is a possibility next,” Sonia reveals.