IMMIGRANT SOUL PAULINA GALLARDO
“I am an immigrant soul who believes that experiences on my way will end up showing me my place in this world.”
Paulina Gallardo is a Paris based photographer, filmmaker and peace journalist. She has captured the graffiti artists of Bosnia among other work. Her objective is to use her art to spread the message of peace and harmony. Raised in Chile, she later immigrated to Mexico but ended up moving and studying Peace and conflict studies in Sweden. She eventually moved to France which is her base now between her travels. It was a pleasure to chat with Paulina Gallardo, the immigrant soul. We could not resist sharing her experiences with our readers.
How was growing up in Chile and what made you study peace and war studies?
I am from the south of Chile a beautiful city called Valdivia. I was born in the 80’s when Chile was still under the dictatorship of Pinochet. My childhood was quite nice. I come from a very close-knit and warm family. My parents were separated and both of them had a very different point of view regarding politics at this time (and even today). Still, I managed to gain great knowledge from both of them in a very special political context.
My mother is a beautiful soul, very careful but she was quite fine with the political circumstances at that moment. My father, however, was absolutely the opposite. He has always been a revolutionary spirit and so was my granddad. They both were actively fighting for democracy at that time. My granddad had to eventually escape after several incidents of torture and kidnappings as a political refugee in London.
Once the people took democracy back in the 90’s, my granddad came back to Chile to rebuild the country with his people. I am the generation in Chile that could talk and express freely. Having born in a dictatorship I experienced the arrival of democracy. I think those factors did unconsciously influence my political values and my engagement with human rights. Peace studies is something I never expected to study because since I was very young I was always more interested in arts and creativity. However somehow that intellectual and human factor and all the empirical experiences made of that interest an inherent passion to me.
What made you move to Europe and was it a big cultural shock coming to Paris?
I left my country when I was 19 years old, I moved first to Mexico. At that moment this was my only expectation as an immigrant. My plan was to study cinema there and get into Mexican society. I was doing that there until I met a big love from Sweden. We had a beautiful romance, he came to live with me in Mexico. But for many reasons (principally the language) he decided to come back to Scandinavia and he invited me with him.
I wasn’t sure since I knew Sweden previously as a tourist and it was not really my mood of life. But I was in love and I am a passional person so I decided to give a try and I make it. There I definitely experience a crazy cultural shock. Scandinavia has nothing to do with our cultural frames (Latinos) and the process of adaptation was quite tough. I had to start from zero and I felt that I had to prove three times more than my capacities in order to prove myself.
After a few years, I managed to adapt to the place and felt somehow at home. The experience in Scandinavia did absolutely help me to not have barriers in Europe. After such an experience, the arrival in France was quite easy for me. I haven’t really experienced any shock in France. `of course, it was a new country, but the real shock and the process of adaptation was mainly in Sweden. It, by the way, is the country that I love and I am deeply grateful to. It gave me a big opportunity in life and it was there where I have studied peace and conflict studies.
Obviously my Swedish love doesn’t exist anymore but he also gave me the chance to fall in love with another language and expanded my horizons.
What made you decide to go to Bosnia and how was your experience of spending your time there?
While I was studying peace and conflict studies, the conflict that touched me the most was the one in Bosnia. It is hard to explain because it is something that I have also asked myself. Of course, I was also touched by the wars in Africa or the Middle East but Bosnia was special to me. I think it is because when I was young, I was always watching the news about Sarajevo and somehow I was relating it with stories from Latin America.
On the other hand, now, in my adult life and principally at my university in Sweden I met a lot of people from the Balkans. I felt them very close to my Latin roots somehow. All of those factors were, I guess, the reasons why I felt more close to them than with other victims of war or genocides. After having such a fascination for Bosnia I decided to have something to do there and I wrote a script for a documentary about graffiti artists, that is why finally after few years I decided to go there and meet them personally and also see the amazing city of Sarajevo.
What was the biggest lesson you learned from your time in Bosnia?
My biggest lesson was to see the smile of people after facing so much injustice and pain. It will be a lie if I say that people in Bosnia are happy with the country and its current situation. Unfortunately, the country hasn’t developed economically because of the full consequences of war and corruption and the scars of the genocide are still visible through racism still present towards target groups. Nevertheless, people has the capacity to smile, to laugh and even make jokes of their own disgrace. Another interesting factor that impressed me a lot was the warmness, respect and generosity of people. Even if the country is economically limited, people always happily share.
Tell us a bit about the graffiti artists you met in Bosnia. How did you meet them and how have they grown from the wartime to peace?
When I studied about Bosnia I knew I wanted to do something there. Since I have also an artistic background I wanted to connect the peace studies with art. this is how I thought about graffiti. I had previously made a lot of friends in the graffiti scene in many countries (Sweden, Chile, Argentina etc.) because I made some videos of Graffiti at that time. I asked them if they knew some writers in Sarajevo and this is how finally I contacted SHATRO, the oldest graffiti crew of Sarajevo. All of them are people over 35 years old so all of them did experience war. I had a lot of chats and Skype calls with them for a long time; we even did research about it with a friend of mine. This is how we got in touch with them.
My idea was to show the crew as an example of peace-building and “graffiti” as a tool of mediation. Why? The crew was composed of different people who had different backgrounds (Muslims, Orthodox, Christians, Serbians etc.) The graffiti unified them without any resentment regarding the ethnic conflict. The other interesting point is that graffiti came to them in the middle of the war process. By then Sarajevo was blocked and the only external influences in the city were the NATO military, journalists and international organizations. So the first encounter with the graffiti they had was through the same NATO soldiers who in their spare time were painting the walls of the city.
How was your experience of travelling solo as a woman in the parts of the world that would be considered dangerous even for a man?
It is strange actually. Yes, it was supposed to be more dangerous of course for a woman but in my case is always good. People always had an eye on me and they protected me. I also always tried to get information about the place, to contact the right people and book safe places before my arrival. So far, all has been good and I hope it keeps that way.
You travel a lot. A sort of dream of a lot of young people. How do you support yourself during travels?
I don’t understand so well this question. Not sure if you mean financially or emotionally? Here are two short answers and you pick the one you meant
- I am 37 years old and not that young anymore. While I was a student, I always worked and supported myself. With my experience and education, I earn much better income. I try to always keep some money for my travels, even though few of them has been made by work.
- My passion and the previous knowledge of the place are the biggest support I have. I always try to know the history and the present situation of the country to be able to have better conclusions and understandings once I am there. Anyway, the goodwill and the passionate curiosity to know more is my best support and motivation.
What countries have you been to and which part of the world has been most fascinating for you? And Why?
I have been to a big part of Latin America, Europe, The Balkans, Middle East, Turkey and recently in Asia. The trip to Asia was absolutely very moving. I went there having certain knowledge about the wars in Vietnam and also the genocide in Cambodia. But I didn’t know so much about the social life there. The resilience of people absolutely amazed me.
The poverty is absolutely evident even though people are quite calm. It was inevitable for me to compare it with the precariousness of some Latin American countries where the need is normative. However, I cannot deny that Latin America is much more socially violent. The passivity of Vietnamese and Cambodian people is something truly incredible. I don’t really know what the reason is. I wasn’t there that long to have a clearer conclusion. But I believe that Buddhism is a fundamental spiritual tool, it is surely a balm of hope for them to resist and survive despite any circumstances.
What has travelling all these countries taught you and what impact has it on you as a person?
Besides travelling, I have also had the opportunity to live in different countries. The experience of living abroad in different cultures such as Mexico or Sweden, which are extremely different from each other, has taught me a lot. My current life in France too and of course the travels such as the one in Vietnam or Bosnia have provided me with a big sense of mercy, respect and hope. When you push your self to experience other cultures, you are open to receive new values, new perspectives and new spiritual dimensions.
For example Sweden, a country with a huge lack of spirituality, paradoxically made me grow spiritually a lot. I always lived surrounded by people. Because in Latin America we socialise all the time. In Sweden, I had to become individualistic. It pushed me to discover my inner self as never before and to learn to be self-reliant. It was a very big spiritual challenge that I can assure you not everyone could successfully deal with (we, the social ones).
Life in Sweden is very solitary and well, I made it. On the other hand, my trips to countries with big issues like Bosnia or Cambodia has given me the honest realization of who we are as human beings. They made me realize the important things in life and how important it is to raise awareness to change the global economic and political systems in which we live.
You also do fashion stories. Do you manage to combine your love for travel and fashion and how?
Yes, I do. I love portraying people, I have always been fascinated by beauty, but not necessarily the mainstream one, even though it is the most demanded work. Besides that, my film school background has taught me how to portray and immortalize thing in sequences. I always wanted to do documentaries but I took a break from video production. Instead, I started to shoot pictures. I tried a few documentary series as also to portray all that I have seen over my travels.
Every time I travel I try to shoot as much as I can. Even though sometimes is hard because I fall in love with the people and I tend to leave my camera behind. I would definitely love to try more documentaries in photos and well, fashion? It is something I really enjoy and I keep learning all the time. I guess it will always continue it.