Interview // In conversation with Su Tomesen about street vendors in Medellín Tirana, Johannesburg and Yogyakarta.

From 13 July till 30 July we will screen the remarkable four-channel video installation Street Vendors: Medellín, Tirana, Johannesburg, Yogyakarta by artist Su Tomesen in Plein Theater! The video installation shows the daily life of street vendors in four different continents.

Street Vendors: Medellín, Tirana, Johannesburg, Yogyakarta is a video installation with four films about street vendors in four cities on different continents. We watch the vendors as they are being observed by Su Tomesen in their daily trials and tribulations. The micro entrepreneurs prove to be resourceful in their claim of the sidewalks and, while improvising, they manage to generate their income.

Watching the four films together reveals global similarities of street vendors at different continents: the apparitions and disappearances of stalls, repairs and inventive solutions to everyday problems. 

The work of visual artist Su Tomesen consists of films and short videos, photographs, installations and interventions. Her projects and series are characterized by social involvement, an anthropological character and raw energy. The topics mostly relate to the dynamics of the urban fabric and human ingenuity within the wonderful world of microeconomics in cities outside the over-regulated Western world. 

Our intern Odai Alkrede asked Su Tomesen a number of questions about her work and the street vendors in the different cities:


How did the idea behind Street Vendors come about?

It was a combination of fascination and feelings. I made a lot of videos about street vendors in all the cities I've been to, but when I was in Indonesia in 2011, I wanted to make a long, serious video and do research about street vendors.

Why do you want to show this video installation?

As an artist, I want to share these videos with the public: Here in Europe and also in the countries where the videos were originally made. To enchant people with the images and to inform how things are done elsewhere in the world.

What differences are there among  the four cities and between the people who work as street vendors?

In each city there are different products that the street vendors sell. Usually, these are typically local or traditional products that differ between the cities.

Do the four cities have the same economic conditions?

In general, the economic situation is similar, they are cities in developing countries. Many people here work in the informal sector, which very normal. In Colombia, for example, almost 50% work in the informal sector.


What are the differences and similarities between the four films?

The four films are about the daily life of the street vendors and the challenges of working in developing cities. At the same time, the four cities are located on four different continents. I didn't make the four films at the same time, the first was in Yogyakarta in 2012 and 2014 and the last in Medellín in 2018.

In your perspective, why do you think that street trade in the western world has disappeared?

This is due to a combination of factors. Firstly, the formalized labor market, and the strong rules that control the informal sector. Furthermore, the economic welfare plays a key role in this matter.

How would you describe the relationship between the street vendors and the authorities?

Since the informal sector in these cities is huge it is difficult for the local authorities to control. At the same time and for instance in Yogyakarta the streets and side-walks are protected by organization which get paid from the street-vendors in exchange.

Do the street vendors develop a strong bond with their customers? And how?

Yes, often street vendors have a permanent place where their customers expect them. It is a priority for the sellers to develop a strong relationship with the clients. All this in connection with the economic necessity underlying the situation.


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