Camille Gharbi

Winning body of work

In one of France’s poorest towns, women are striving to lift themselves out of precarious living through a food service steeped in solidarity, ‘Matres Mundi’ serves as their blueprint for reclaiming dignity. In Grigny, Essonne, 44% of residents live below the poverty line. Just outside a commuter station, against a bleak backdrop of dilapidated tower blocks and crumbling concrete, these women set up their makeshift stalls each day, striving to make a living by selling what they can. Primarily from Sub-Saharan Africa and living on just a few hundred euros a month, sometimes without legal status, these women offer home-cooked food to passersby cooked either in their own homes or on the spot. Among them, a group of women have teamed up to launch a catering effort grounded in community and care. These are the “Mamas of Grigny”. As nurturing matriarchs, vigilant caregivers, benevolent nurturers, these “Mamas” bear their families and communities on their shoulders, becoming icons within their neighbourhood. This portrait series, shaped by weeks of immersion with the ‘Mamas’ serves as a homage to them. By twisting the conventions of classic European painting which developed alongside the triangular trade and slavery that underpinned Western prosperity, the project probes the complexities of social cohesion viewed through the lens of France’s colonial history and its treatment of people from former colonies.


[Translated from French by Harley Boden – The Subject Matters]

Matres Mundi