Gypsies, from Caravans to Houses
When 170 Gypsy and Yenish families settled down in the Polygon neighborhood in Strasbourg next to the airfield in the late 1960's, they gave a new identity to this popular district. The evolution of this often neglected part of the city was marked by the development and renovation of the land in the 1980s and the birth of Lupovino association in 1995 which has been assisting travel families ever since. In 2000, the district was declared unhealthy and the City of Strasbourg had two options, either to relocate this population in the surrounding neighborhoods or to build new houses on the field. They decided to build 150 dwellings in order not to separate families. The mediators responsible for taking into account families' voices allowed to keep a location for the caravan, a strong symbol not to put an end to the travel spirit. The steps of destruction and reconstruction were organized around the four sections of the neighborhood, they started in 2005.
In 2009, I had already met some families of the Polygon district while I was doing the first part of my series of photographies "Childhood Gypsies" which allowed to deliver a message of tolerance towards the Roma communities.
Coming back to the field seven years later, before the destruction of its fourth and final section to find the same children who had become young adolescents and all those Gypsy families, who were among the first to have walked on the Polygon's soil, allowed me to share with them intense emotions. I photographed them during the six months preceding the destruction of their houses. It seemed important to me to express their sense of oppression that accompanied this meaningful period at the turn of a new world. The idea that their home built with their own hands, the oldest dating back to 1974, could suddenly disappear under the blows of a backhoe aroused in them mixed feelings: helplessness and immense sadness prevailed with the sensation that they were not given a choice and that they had no voice. To the feeling of extinction of freedom and collapse of a bohemian life was added the apprehension of being more watched and subjected to an administrative standardization. All of them feverishly preserved memories, photos, pieces of crockery...
Some gave free reign to their claims by covering their walls with graffitis. In the purest Gypsy tradition, others chose to burn their beds or wardrobes. The resistance also imposed itself for a while, not to leave the place and then destroy everything by yourself so as not to let others the opportunity to do it and to preserve the illusion that you are still master at home. Fatis Adam and Waou Kobi who can be considered as the founding fathers of this parcel of the Polygon were the most refractory. Fatis Adam is the father of 10 children, who themselves started a family; the majority of them built their home on the fourth section around their grandfather. Waou Kobi, whose passion for horses made the Polygon's heyday for many years, had six children who also gathered around him. For the first, living in a caravan and traveling through France remained his dream way of life, for the second being rehoused in a conventional house was similar to a descent into hell. On the other hand, among the youngest, a discreet feeling of impatience was out of tune with all the others: to have a home as soon as possible, a bathroom and a better comfort.
By contrasting the pictures of the destruction with those representative of the fragments of life of the old world, this photo series aims to make up a collection of memories for the inhabitants and become part of the collective memory: family celebrations around a barbecue, respect for the elders who still have their place among their bloodlines, gardens decorated with flowers, a walnut tree, a fig tree, a fountain, a wood oven. The decoration of houses with recycled materials or objects purchased in flea markets, children's games on the wasteland, in a few words, the poetry emanating from this place and community ... According to Twist and Kwaros, two of Fatis's sons , the destruction of their houses would not change anything to their simple values. They naturally considered that, in their new homes, their fierce desire to affirm their difference would reproduce the same way of life.
If a forced sedentarization goes hand in hand with the end of the travel spirit and a partitioning that hinders neighborly relations, it is also legitimate to think of the human dimension of such a rehousing project that will benefit the poor by ensuring them decennt safety, hygiene and comfort standards. . In addition, the end of nomadism will allow children to benefit from a school education whilst many of their elders can not read or write. Education might preserve these generations from social welfare dependence. After all, isn't the Gypsy spirit essential? Why should the Sons of the Wind's soul driven by a life in the great outdoors, the travel instinct and the respect for their elders disappear with a new housing? Isn't a respect of the traditions mixed with a better comfort and access to education and jobs a favorable evolution of the Gypsies of tomorrow?