Theo Gould

2020 - Ongoing

Lisbon, Portugal

At its heart, MIXED is an exploration of racial and cultural identity. It deals specifically with people that have mixed heritage and captures the essence of what it’s like to be mixed-race. It explores the experiences of each subject but also echoes my own. Humanity’s tribal nature is such that we constantly look to fit in and being mixed race often means sacrificing parts of oneself or one’s culture in order to do so. Each shoot starts with a face-to-face conversation about what it means to be mixed race and our experience of growing up in two (or more) worlds/cultures but never being fully being part of them. The conversations focus especially on the contradiction of fitting in everywhere but nowhere at the same time and the resulting shoot is a collaboration that encompasses the themes considered.

An ongoing fine-art documentary project, MIXED discusses themes relating to racism, xenophobia and cultural suppression, yet is unashamedly hopeful. Mixed race people are living proof that different cultures can live and love together. In a time where racial purity is an unwanted part of the modern zeitgeist, and with the rise of fascism and right-wing extremism, it seems poignant to have this conversation about race. As the World becomes more globalised and interracial relationships are normalised, it is not just a refreshing realisation that the children of the future will almost certainly be mixed race but in reality, when we look at humanity’s history and our own DNA, we discover that racial purity is not simply undesirable but also a wholly unachievable ideal.

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  • Beatriz was born in Portugal and counts herself as Portuguese. Her maternal grandparents are from Guinea-Bissau and from Cape Verde. Her paternal grandparents are from Portugual and Mozambique. Something that is rarely spoken about is that Africa is the most genetically diverse continent on the planet. Beatriz's counts herself as three-quarters African, yet has light green eyes and fair skin.

  • Yu Lin was born and raised in Milan. Her father is Swiss German and her mum is French Chinese/Vietnamese. Her mum was born in Vietnam, but was adopted by a French/Chinese couple from Shanghai. She only found out that she was adopted when she was in her 30s. Yu Lin described growing up in Italy and feeling like an outsider despite having lived there all her life up until that point. There is a fascist era law that denies those that can’t prove having Italian heritage citizenship and every 2 years had to renew her visa until a new law was enacted allowing non-Italian people born in Italy to apply for citizenship. As a result of her experiences in Italy she studied political science and law with the ambition of becoming a politician and bringing about social change before eventually changing tact and becoming a multidisciplinary artist and musician. She speaks 6 languages.

  • João was born in Portugal. Both of his grandfathers were Portuguese and both of his grandmothers were a mix of Angolan and Mozambican. When reflecting on his youth he says that he didn’t care much for school and spent a lot of his time missing class to hang out with his friends. Soon after he left Portugal for Rotterdam where he began to find himself as a chef. He worked in a number of restaurants and soon found that as a result of the Dutch Empire, there were culinary influences from around the globe. He describes The Netherlands as “The America of Europe” because of the breadth of culture that exists there. After living in Rotterdam for 8 and a half years he’s now back in Lisbon, João cooks a mix of Chinese, Caribbean, African and Portuguese. João’s father was a ceramicist who made plates and bowls, though died young. When I put it to him that there may be an influence between the fact that his father made crockery and that he then became a chef, he agreed that there was a direct influence. He even suggested the connection was even deeper than that as his mother would crave clay and put pieces of wet clay in her mouth whilst she was pregnant with him.

  • Bianca was born in Germany, but grew up in Portugal. Her father is from the south of Germany and her mother is from Cape Verde.

    Bianca spoke at length about what it’s like growing up mixed race in a predominantly Caucasian country and how it affects the way we think about her heritage. She said she feels more black than white side due to the way that she looks. To her friends she was almost always "the black friend" and although she has dual-citizenship, when she would describe herself as German people would often react by saying, “You don’t look German”.

  • Natalí was born in Buenos Aires to Brazilian parents. Her mother is from São Paulo and her father is from Bahía. She told me that she found certain parts of her upbringing tough to navigate. There is a fierce rivalry between Brazil and Argentina and that rivalry is particularly intense when the two teams play each other in football. She related the fact that people would often feel trapped by being in between the two, not wanting to root for one team over fear of turning her back on her heritage or her country of birth. She also told me that Argentina has very few people of colour and was the only black person in her entire school. As a child she recalls how she was called racist names and teased because she was different without understanding why.

  • Some people are mixed without having parents from different places. Often, groups of people from one place are transplanted into different areas, which is what happened in Denise’s case. Denise is a filmmaker born in Lisbon to Cape Verdean parents, but raised in the Italian part of Switzerland. Although she lived most of her life in Switzerland, her blood he Cape Verdean and her mother tongue Italian, she counts Lisbon as her home. She describes the city itself is a bridge between Europe and Africa, and as a result its identity as a result allows her own personal complexity to be understood by the people she surrounds herself with, without having to explain it herself. Her complexity is part of her identity and unsurprisingly speaks 6 languages (Italian, Portuguese, French, Spanish, English and Cape Verdean Creole).

  • Iara was born in Portugal and grew up in a small town in Alentejo called Sines. Her father is Portuguese and her mother has heritage from Cape Verde and Mozambique. Although she’s always felt very strongly about her race, it wasn’t until the Black Lives Matter protests this year that she started to talk about it openly with her friends and family. Growing up in a small town, though there are black people that live there, she didn’t live in the designated “black” neighbourhood and as a result the vast majority of her friends are white. She speaks of a racial divide in the town and laments the fact that she also wasn’t accepted by the black people there. She feels lucky to have only experienced very minor forms of racism, such as people saying, “You’re so pretty for a black girl”, or commenting on her hair, yet she believes these off-hand comments are a symptom of a much bigger issue. Though Portugal, most would agree, has less racism than many other countries, there is unspoken about biases throughout society which people don’t even realise they have and before any solution is forthcoming there must be a consensus that there is a problem.

  • Billy’s real name is Abílio, like his father and his grandfather. He was born in Angola and came to Portugal as a baby. His family left the country because of the civil war which went on with various pauses for 27 years. Although he has lived in Portugal for nearly the entirety of his life, he still describes himself as Angolan. During our chat, the idea of home was a big theme. As a teen he started going back to Angola for Christmases and although he hadn’t lived there, he found the country reassuringly familiar because it was exactly as his parents had described to him growing up. However, though the country seemed familiar, he did not recognise it as his home despite being a self-described Angolan. Home, to him, was always Portugal. His mixed heritage comes from both his father’s and mother’s sides, who is Cape Verdean. During the First World War, his great-great grandfather was sent to live in Portugal from Austria. His daughter, then married a Spanish man and moved to Angola. Billy also has English heritage - his maternal great grandmother’s surname was Spencer.

  • Manu was born in Brazil in Piracicaba but grew up in São José de Campos (both cities in São Paulo State). Her mother is Brazilian, although like many Brazilians is a mix of European and indigenous. Her father’s parents were both immigrants to Brazil from Japan searching for a better life in the wake of World War II. Although Brazil has more people with Japanese heritage than any other country outside of Japan (with the majority concentrated in São Paulo State), Manu had almost no exposure to Japanese culture. Her father had wanted to be accepted more as a Brazilian, so had kept his own Japanese culture at arms length throughout his life and as a result Manu as a child was never interested in it growing up. On top of that she didn’t have any friends that had Japanese heritage. She was given racist nicknames poking fun at her Asian looks by other kids at school. She spoke about just wanting to fit in and remembers telling her mum that she wished her eyes didn’t look so Asian. However, it all changed when at 18 she moved to Tokyo. She learnt Japanese and began to learn more about her heritage. As it happens, there are now a lot of Dekasegi (Brazilians of Japanese origin) moving back to Japan as the economic situation in Brazil worsens. She now speaks of her pride about having Japanese heritage.
    After an 8 year stint in NYC Manu now lives in Lisbon where we met. When I ask her where she feels on the cultural map, she explains that although she feels Brazilian, it’s complicated. Her father now lives in the São Paulo (a city she doesn’t know as she didn’t ever live there), her mum lives in Sintra in Portugal, her brother lives in Spain and her sister in Italy. As a result, she doesn’t feel as though there’s much for her back in Brazil. Although she was in the States long enough to become a citizen, she never felt “American”. Although she doesn’t feel Portuguese, Portugal is now her home and she feels comfortable here.

  • Tatiana was born in Angola and recently moved to Portugal to study architecture at university. Her father is Portuguese and her mother is Angolan. She told me that a big factor in her moving out of Angola was the way she was treated. Now that she’s in Portugal, she explains that she has much more independence and a better quality of life, whereas she recalls times where people have thrown stones and drink cans unprovoked at her in the street. When I asked her why, she explains that in Angola there is a perception of people with lighter skin as having more privilege within society. As a result, people of mixed heritage, who usually have lighter skin, can often be mistreated.

  • Soya’s parents met at university in Casablanca and moved to Portugal because of her mother’s love of the Portuguese language as a result of watching Brazilian telenovelas. Shortly after moving to Lisbon, Soya was born, where she continued to live until she was 8. Her mother was born in Marrakesh and her maternal grandparents were Sudanese and Egyptian. Her father is half Ivorian and half Mauritanian. In her early years she speaks of not actually realising that she was black. Growing up in a majority white neighbourhood the issue never even crossed her mind, she just thought it was strange that some of the kids sometimes treated her differently.

    At the age of 8, her father decided to move Soya and her sister to Mauritania with the aim of her getting in touch with her roots. She describes the time as difficult as she was away from her mother, and as a result, being the older sibling, effectively became mother to her younger sister. Upon moving to Mauritania she immediately became aware of her race as people there would say that she was European and that she had lighter skin, which she took as a compliment at the time, but now realises that it was not. Another massive culture shock was the approach to marriage that exits in Mauritania. Polygamy is common practice there and has step-sisters that are 6 months apart from two separate wives. Reflecting on it now, family inbreeding is very common and as a result many children are born with mental health issues. She speaks about the hyper sexualisation of black women and describes Mauritania as being highly misogynistic where women exist to cook, clean and produce offspring. Even at the age of 12, there were grown men interested in marrying her.

    After 6 years in Mauritania, Soya and her sister moved to Morocco for 2 years before finally moving back to Portugal at 16. Upon returning to Portugal, she suffered from out and out racism for the first time and due to the level bullying and exclusion from her classmates had to move schools. After moving schools Soya began to come out of her shell and exude the self-confidence that she now clearly shows and after her mother died from ovarian cancer when she was 18, she became fiercely independent and career orientated. She recently finished her degree in International Affairs, is considering a Masters in either Diplomacy or Economic International Affairs and wants to work for the United Nations in Seoul.