Los Manteros is about our collaborative work with undocumented refugees in Madrid, Spain.

Never Forget Mame Mbaye /
No Olvidamos Mame Mbaye

On March 15th, 2018, Spanish police chased an undocumented immigrant named Mame Mbaye from the tourist-heavy Puerta del Sol in Madrid's city center down several blocks to Lavapies, the immigrant neighborhood. While being pursued by these police officers, Mbaye had a heart attack and died in the open street. The scene of yet another young black man killed on the heels of the police deeply affected locals and led to a week-long social upheaval.

Mame Mbaye Memorial

On the one year anniversary of Mame Mbaye´s death, the Lavapies community, led by the Sindicato de los Manteros, placed an official peoples´ plaque at the location of his sudden death to commemorate his life and to call out institutional racism and the constant violence against the Manteros and other immigrants in Spain.

The sign, which was made to resemble the official Spanish commemorative dedication plaque, reads:

“On this street died, on March 15, 2018, Mame Mbaye,

a victim of the institutional racism of the Spanish state.¨

Roughly 3 weeks later, in the middle of night, a group of far right Vox party supporters removed the plaque with police assistance.

Manteros Selling Police Toys /
Manteros Vendiendo Juguetes Policiales

"Manteros" are undocumented ad hoc street vendors, named after the blankets they use to display their wares. Fleeing violent dictatorships, terrorist insurgencies, and economic stagnation, over the last decade the majority of refugees entering Europe have come from sub-Saharan countries along the Sahel region of North and Central Africa.

Many young sub-Saharan men and women who manage to cross the deadly Sahara Desert and Mediterranean Sea alive make it to Europe only to find themselves in yet another impossible situation under harsh immigration laws. For 3 years the undocumented in Spain are expected to survive without residency papers, without work, without support of any kind. Add to this the persistence of cultural and institutional racism in Europe and things are particularly harder for African immigrants seeking refuge and many are forced to live in limbo in an ever vulnerable and precarious legal condition. As a result, a lot of young men become ad hoc streets vendors selling knock off goods to tourists to survive.

Undocumented immigrants are often scapegoated by insecure societies and assaulted by the police. They come to a so-called “free” Europe, only to become the scapegoats of a society seemingly unable to evolve with the times. Underwriting this power narrative through satire and détournement, two Manteros were hired to sell police toys to the Spanish public outside of Atocha, the largest railway station in Madrid. This project is also an homage to my unwitting mentor, artist Santiago Sierra.

Sindicato De Manteros De Madrid

Abdou Touray is a Gambian immigration activist based in Madrid, Spain. As Vice President of Sidicato de Manteros de Madrid, an association focused on the rights of undocumented African immigrants in Europe, and as an associate producer in Tactical Aesthetics, Touray specializes in migratory issues stemming from the Sahel regions of Africa, assisting undocumented immigrants in Europe with employment and legal processes, and human rights advocacy.

Touray himself ended up in Europe the hard way, and not by choice. While escaping the former dictator of The Gambia, over the course of 6 years, he survived the deadly Sahara desert, from kidnappings and forced labor and dodging terrorist insurgencies to nearly dying in the Mediterranean Sea – only to make it to Europe to bounce from country to country and from prison to the streets in search of asylum. But Abdou endured, and today has dedicated his life to helping others.