Neighbourhood Picnic, Museo Reina Sofía, 2018. Photograph: Ela Rabasco (Ela R que R)
With the aim of establishing ties with other communities and practicing other institutional constructions, the Museo Reina Sofía has maintained dialogues and collaborations with different local, national and international agents and collectives for a number of years. This is the framework in which Museo Situado is positioned, an active collaboration framework made up of local collectives and associations from Madrid’s Lavapiés neighbourhood and the Museo.
Lavapiés is home to an array of communities — many of migrant origin — and has a long history of self-organisation, cooperation and struggles for the rights of those living in the city. In turn, it has been heavily affected by tourist-related gentrification and real estate speculation, which have systematically driven out many of its residents due to rising costs and rent prices.
Museo Situado came into being in 2018 from the shock over the death of a young Senegalese migrant, a member of Sindicato de Manteros (the Union of Street Traders) and Lateros Mame Mbaye (Mame Mbaye Street Sellers) who collapsed from a heart attack just yards from his home after running from the police for hours. Mbaye had spent thirteen years living without documents in Madrid, and without managing to legalise his situation or obtain a work permit. This terrible outcome, a corollary of the defencelessness and vulnerability of his life, unleashed an enraged and immediate wave of protests in the neighbourhood.
Amid this shockwave, a collective and urgent resoluteness saw the Museo Reina Sofía assume a clear and active position and was open to letting events happening in nearby streets cross through it. As a result, the first action was to listen, gain awareness and give a voice more directly to those visibly affected by this and other experiences and situations of inequality, discrimination and vulnerability in the neighbourhood. Subsequently, an assembly-based organisation was set up, in which Lavapiés collectives and associations could set out their objections, demands and needs in an intensive and persistent exercise of listening and questioning. Inside this framework, it developed from a starting point blighted by mistrust and scepticism towards the institution towards a deluge of ideas and proposals, including a neighbourhood picnic organised in the Museo’s Garden and easier access to the Library and Documentation Centre for undocumented people, both of which were realised. Today this body propels the network: a project of vital, regular and open collaboration in which decisions are made collectively over the initiatives to promote and direct, maintaining a close dialogue between the Museo and neighbourhood collectives, agents and residents.
Museo Situado takes its name from feminist theory, particularly the notion posited by American theorist Donna Haraway on situated knowledge, which does not seek to be neutral but is crossed by context, specifying its point of view and with a willingness to stress the state
of things. Nevertheless, many prefer to call the initiative, colloquially, “Piercing the Museo”, an eloquent metaphor alluding to the action of permeating this brilliant, hermetic, impenetrable force, embodied more specifically by the Nouvel Building’s architecture, to create tunnels and bridges, to open doors and windows.
In this respect, Museo Situado is aware of the tense paradox in which the Museo Reina Sofía is situated — on one side, it is at the forefront of the neighbourhood’s tourist-based gentrification (attracting investors, tourists and new inhabitants with greater spending power) and, on the other, it articulates initiatives which, run by collectives and associations, confront this “state of things” and aspires to be part of building a more equal, sustainable and just society from the commons.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown the vitality of solidarity and mutual care networks in the neighbourhood, activated through the suffering of many residents. Yet it has also intensified the precarious realities of many lives. In the face of this emergency situation, Museo Situado has embarked upon a new phase, traversed by the urgent need to find new ways to make these extreme situations and initiatives seeking to alleviate them more visible. This space on the Museo Reina Sofía website has materialised with the same aim: to inform the public about the initiatives, campaigns, activities, calls and productions driven from Museo Situado and other likeminded platforms.