25 September 2018

An Emotional Map of Colonisation

25 September 2018 - Written by PhMuseum

Using photographs, archival materials and interviews, Juan Valbuena's Out of Sight Out of Mind offers an insight into the hidden and troubled history between Spain and Equatorial Guinea, its former colony.

Horizonte 2020 (Horizon 2020) is the National Plan of Economic and Social Development under which the Obiang Government will look to improve the life conditions of Equatorial Guineans through an ambitious series of investments planned before the international petrol crisis. It is believed that Equatorial Guinea is the country with the largest difference between average Rent per Capita (43) and position according to the Human Development Index (135). Compared to Spain, the figures are 32 and 27 respectively.

The complex history between Spain and Equatorial Guinea has left many of its protagonists in no man's land, turned into emotional apatridas lost between two worlds.

Almost everyone has trouble telling their story, some, after doing so, prefer not to give their names nor show their faces. Something similar has happened with photographs, files and documents: Many have disappeared or are damaged forever, it has not been easy to resist the passage of time, the scourge of the human and the climate circumstances.

This year marks half a century since the independence of Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish colony in sub-Saharan Africa and the only country on the continent that has Spanish as its official language. Juan Valbuena's Out of Sight out of Mind offers a chronological journalistic narrative about the historical relationship between both territories, now states. It is a complex project that brings back images, faces and words from a recent, hidden past, in which the author uses archive material and recent photographs, objects, original documents, family albums, texts and screens to combine free information, opinion and emotion and tell the story of what the textbooks do not say.

The essay is published in the form of five newspapers, and consists of 120 pages that cover 240 years of history of this forgotten conflict, approached from the perspective of a nearly total lack of documentation. In fact, in the 1970s, Spain declared everything related to this African state “confidential”, and Equatorial Guinea is a country where today there is still no free press. Valbuena brings together the voices of direct witnesses to draw a reliable, emotive map of the consequences of the colonisation and decolonisation of this African country.

Words and Pictures by Juan Valbuena.

Trinidad Morgades. “Guinea needs Spain to become independent from it… which is paradoxical, but it is like this…”

The first black academic of Philosophy and Literature at the University of Barcelona, descendent from Annabon Island (Equatorial Guinea) and of the Bubi people, and raised with the Fernandinos. She was a Professor of the Cisneros Cardenal of Santa Isabel, and wife of a diplomat during a period of exile in the times of Macías. She returned to Guinea in the 1980’s, and recovered her house, her place and her position.

Superficie de Contacto (Surface of Contact) is a simple development process for measuring the degree of visual apartheid in any collection of images. If we look at the 120 postcards edited for Publicaciones Patriòticas (Patriotic Publications) for the Exposiciòn Iberoamericana de Sevilla (Iberoamerican Exhibition of Seville) in 1929, the result is Superficie de Contacto (Surface of contact), or, what this means, that white and black people don’t mix between themselves in any of the photographs, which come from diverse archives from the XIX century and the beginning of the XX century.

José Menéndez. “Of all the colonial systems that I’ve known, the most human, but with a greatest difference, was the Spanish”

Journalist and registrar of the property of the Spanish administration in Equatorial Guinea in the 1970’s and participant in the trial of the case of Acacio Mañé. In 1968 he was declared a “persona non grata” by Francisco Macías.

The President Francisco Macías on the Independence Day.
Green Francoist Passport.

El Golpe de la Libertad (The Hit of Freedom) is the name given to the change of regime whereby Teodoro Obiang Nguena overthrew Francisco Macías, his uncle and Government President, whom he defended while he was the Chief of the Arm Forces. What looked like a new provisional order supported by the international community against the catastrophic situation of the country, has turned into a supposedly democratic regime that has exercised uninterrupted for almost forty years.

“Long before the actions against the dictatorial regime of Macías, I secretly appealed to the Spanish Government and announced what was going to happen through letters, to both the President Adolfo Suarez and the King Don Juan Carlos. The objective was to ask for economic and military support to promote change. (…) I waited for a response for many days and, with no answer, we decided to risk ourselves and we managed to reduce the enemy troops, in a fight that lasted for approximately two weeks.

“My life for my People” Teodoro Obiand Nguema.

Jacinto Nsué Biyogo learned the trade in The Canarys, and he finished having his own studio in Malabo and was one of the official presidential photographers with Macías and Obiang.

All of his archives have been lost, only two albums survived of the first eighty which are in the possession of his son Manuel, who has inherited his trade and his position of cameraman in the TVGE. One of the books contains portraits of men and woman of his native town, Nsomoyong-Esseng, including his one of his father. The set is disseminated little by little: there are some holes, every time that someone passed and recognised a relative, they took a photo…

Gloyer Matala. “It is not easy to be a photographer in Equatorial Guinea, but with mobiles telephones each time you can take more and better photos with freedom…”

Photographer and videographer of ethnic ndowe, he lives in Bata where he collaborates with the CCEB. He has participated in the project Invisible Borders: collective experience in which some African photographers have explored part of the continent.


Juan Valbuena is the founder of NOPHOTO Agency. He teaches an International Masters on Contemporary Photography at EFTI School and he is the director of the publishing house PHREE. His photographic work is linked to territory, travelling and remembrance and it is impregnated with other disciplines such as edition, video and literature. Nowadays he is particularly interested in telling stories about the relationship between photography and the human being. Follow Juan on PHmuseum.


This feature is part of Story of the Week, a selection of relevant projects from our community handpicked by the PHmuseum curators.

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