A life Full of holes: the Strait Project
babelmed - 01/02/2005
'I thought: people say it's better to have no life at all than a life full of holes. But then they say: better an empty sack than no sack. I don't know.' (A Life Full of Holes, Driss Ben Hamed Charhadi (1964), recorded and translated by Paul Bowles)
The title of the exhibition refers to the Strait of Gibraltar, the narrow channel that divides Europe and Africa, but for the artist it also refers to the temptation of departure.
For Barrada the city of Tangier can be seen as a focal point for the issues surrounding African migration into Europe, a microcosm in which a population's imagined dreams and aspirations of leaving are placed.
'The word strait, like its French - and as chance would have it, Arabic - equivalent, combines the senses of narrowness and distress. The collapse of the colonial entreprise has left behind a complex legacy, bridging the Mediterranean and shaping how movement across the Strait of Gibraltar is managed and perceived. Before 1991 any Moroccan with a passport could travel freely to Europe. But since the European Union's (EU) Schengen Agreement, visiting rights have become unilateral across what is now legally a one-way strait. A generation of Moroccans has grown up facing this troubled space that manages to be at once physical, symbolic, historical and intimately personal. Today the Strait is the main gateway for illegal immigrants, bound north with their own vocabulary, legends, songs, rites, and language. People no longer say 'he migrated' but 'h'reg': 'he burned'- burned his papers, his past, the law. Over the past two decades, the Spanish coast, visible from Tangier on any clear day or night, has lured many thousands of would-be émigrés to their deaths in what has become a vast Moroccan cemetery. Yet throughout Africa, the streets are abuzz with the exploits of 'the burnt ones' or 'the burners', and Tangier has become the destination and jumping-off point of a thousand hopes.
I try to expose the metonymic character of the Strait through a series of images that reveal the tension - that restlessly animates the streets of my hometown - between its allegorical nature and immediate, harsh reality. My work attempts, in part, to exorcise the unspoken violence of other people's departures. I, too, left Tangier, for more than 10 years; by moving back, I have placed myself amidst the violence of homecoming. There are no flâneurs here, and no innocent bystanders.
The subject of this work is never frankly discussed in Morocco. Yet everywhere I pursued my photographic record of northern ennui - along the 'Wall of the Lazy', in the vacant lots and housing projects, around the port - I came to recognise this fatal drive to leave that is today inscribed in a whole people.'
A Life Full Of Holes - The Strait Project, a hardback book of work from the project, published by Autograph ABP, will be launched alongside the exhibition.
Yto Barrada will be discussing issues surrounding the work with Mark Sealy, Director of Autograph ABP in a special gallery discussion at Open Eye on Saturday 12 February 2005 at 1.00pm.