Civil Society Organisations' Group proud to complement work on resilient and sustainable food systems with photo exhibition in Spain

Speakers with the book of the exhibition 'Mariscadoras'

The Civil Society Organisations' Group organised a photography exhibition in collaboration with the City of Culture of Galicia in the framework of its conference on EU food sovereignty: the role of agriculture, fisheries and consumers in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. The conference was organised at the City of Culture in the context of the ongoing Spanish Presidency of the Council of the EU. The subject of the exhibition supported and complemented the Group's and the EESC's work on resilient and sustainable European food systems. The content and profile of the exhibition promoted Spanish culture and supported the younger generation of artists in the country.

The Group invited the Galician artist, Adrián Baúlde, to present parts of the series Mariscadoras, which pays tribute to shellfish gatherers and their role in the local food system. The photos provide insights into the needs of this specific sector and are therefore a creative way to address topical issues that are crucial for civil society and the EESC.

The exhibition was opened during the Group's conference. Séamus Boland, president of the Civil Society Organisations' Group, welcomed Adrián Baúlde, Ana Isabel Vázquez Reboredo and Javier Garat. He thanked the City of Culture and the artist for their collaboration and said how proud the Group was to be associated with the exhibition. Mr Boland explained that, exceptionally, the Group had organised this annual cultural activity abroad, at the culture centre hosting the conference.

The artist, Adrián Baúlde, said that the Mariscadoras series has taken almost 10 years to put together. The series portrays the work of mostly female shellfish gatherers in Cambados, a small municipality of almost 15 000 inhabitants on the Ría de Arousa on the Galician coast, which is the largest estuary in Spain. "Each day, the 220 shellfish gatherers of Cambados, portrayed in the photographs of this exhibition, work an area of approximately 300 hectares. They fight against water, mud, sand and stones with uncommon effort and skills, enduring sun, rain, wind and fog," said the artist. He added: "The images are intended to pay tribute to these women and raise awareness of their hard work, making it visible while highlighting the attractiveness of a task well done. Their hands work ceaselessly to put the hidden wealth of Galician estuaries on our plates."

The Managing Director of the City of Culture, Ana Isabel Vázquez Reboredo, said that agriculture, livestock and fishing were - and had always been - key sectors not only in the Galician economy but also in the social organisations of local communities. "Logically, this has had a strong influence also on our cultural heritage, from our music, oral tradition and intangible heritage to our visual arts and architecture. The sea, the fishermen and the shellfish gatherers, who are the main subjects of Adrián Baúlde's powerful and beautiful images, have inspired and continue to inspire countless photographers, painters, filmmakers and sculptors, leaving us artistic works that transcend borders and generations." Their works were an invaluable testimony to what has changed and what has remained in the country, people and communities over time.

Javier Garat, member of the Civil Society Organisations' Group, Secretary-General of Cepesca and President of Europêche and the International Coalition of Fisheries Associations, stressed the need to recognise the contribution of shellfish gatherers and fishermen to society. "The shellfish gatherers perform a job which is silent, hard, sacrificial, sometimes not well appreciated and often invisible, as they weather adverse conditions."

Mr Garat further explained that shellfish gatherers face problems with the generational relay and the decrease in the profitability of their work as productivity declines. The sector calls for greater commitment from the administrations and scientific community when it comes to analysing water quality and the impact of climate change on the species usually harvested and finding solutions to their challenges.

The opening of the exhibition ended with the screening of a short video that illustrated the work of shellfish gatherers.

Shellfishing is an activity based on the farming, harvesting and gathering of molluscs, primarily, but also crustaceans and other marine invertebrates. Shellfish gatherers go to work when the tide goes out. Their activity combines tradition, culture and respect for the environment and is also an economic driver and energising force for indoor and outdoor markets, the hotel and catering industry and tourism. Shellfish gatherers collect the product and help with tasks such as cleaning shellfish beds, semi‑cultivation to improve production, and activities relating to the care, protection and monitoring of shellfish banks.

The Civil Society Organisations' Group thanks Adrián Baúlde, the City of Culture of Galicia, which staged the exhibition from 26 September to 2 October 2023, the shellfish gatherers of Cambados and all the other people who contributed to the design and implementation of this exhibition.