Yto Barrada reconstructs contemporary Moroccan history through an examination of historical objects in her latest exhibition at Carré d’Art, the Musée d’Art Contemporaine in Nîmes.
French-born Moroccan artist Yto Barrada’s investigation into identity and cultural roots reveals a fascination with her home country’s historical objects, the ways in which they have been collected and the forgery industry that has developed around them.
Moroccan multimedia artist Yto Barrada (b. 1971, Paris) uses photography, video and installation to confront identity and cultural roots in her current exhibition “Faux Guide”. As an individual with a dual identity Barrada is intimately familiar with cultural ties that situate identity in places other than their countries of origin. Born in Paris to Moroccan parents and raised in Tangier, Barrada, as described by art critic Elisabeth Vedrenne in December 2015, is
steeped in the history of the France’s historical and political relations with Morocco, between the North and the South.”
“Faux Guide” (16 October 2015 – 13 March 2016) at the Carré d’Art – Musée d’Art Contemporain in Nîmes is simultaneously an exploration into Moroccan identity and the notion of roots, but also an investigation into how Moroccan historical objects have been collected and displayed. Additionally, Barrada acknowledges the industry of forgeries that has built up around archaeological sites to satisfy the hungry appetite of collectors desiring a personal piece of Moroccan history.
As the exhibition title suggests, history is often a false point of departure for reliable information on cultural roots and identity. Barrada’s work asks us to consider the reliability of objects, the ways in which they were collected and the stories that become history as a result.
The act of collecting—by the scientist and ethnographer; the artist; the museum curator; the amateur collector; to the child collecting rocks that look like camels—is both a preoccupation of the exhibit and it’s mode of presentation. Barrada’s new body of work also appropriates aspects of museum practice— including the readymade and the vitrine—as part of its conceptual strategy.
By reappropriating and re-performing these very same practices, Barrada reminds us that identity is comprised not solely of how one views him or herself, but is also based on an external, third party lens. Barrada embodies the external lens in her images of toys and educational boards amassed during Morocco’s colonial period by French collectors such as Thérèse Rivière, a French ethnographer who collected drawings, toys and sounds.
Thérèse Rivière merits mention as she was a student of French sociologist, and nephew of Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss who created a methodology for collecting during this period. These ideas, many of which were outlined in Mauss’ book The Gift, were taken a step further by Marechal Lyautey, administrator of France in Morocco who implemented a national heritage preservation project and planned the reorganisation of craft work. Lyautey created the Indigenous Arts Service managed by Prosper Ricard that would create museums to stimulate the revival of craft creation.
The notion of recreation or better yet, reassembly, evident in the archive, is very clearly not lost on Barrada. She explores it without reserve in her mixed media work Plumber Assemblage, where she takes previously used and discarded pipes, the very same used by plumbers in Tangiers’ Grand Socco square to advertise their skills, and reassembles them attaching shower heads and other parts to create “makeshift tripods” (PDF download).
Barrada’s film Faux Départ (False start) goes a step further as it reveals fossil excavations in the regions between the Atlas Mountains Sahara desert and a thriving industry of counterfeiters that has developed to meet the demand from museums and collectors wanting a piece of history. Barrada reveals that fabricating history is easily done but, she asks, at what cost and to what end?
Thus contextualised, “Faux Guide” is a lens through which audiences can begin to chip away at constructed histories, which over the course of time have become inextricably tied up in Moroccan identity. In one sense it is Barrada’s declaration that Moroccan historical narrative and its presentation has been so manufactured that we may never know the truth. Another reading suggests that truth can be resurrected by a thorough examination of the ephemera left by previous generations.
Undoubtedly what shines through in this exhibition, as a result of Barrada’s head on confrontation with this archival material, is a coming to grips with the leavings of modernity. As Lunette Rouges noted in her June 2015 article in Le Monde,
Barrada inserts herself into a much broader problem, that of the true, the Museum, aesthetics, the modern. This entire exhibition is thus a questioning of modernism.
Negarra A. Kudumu
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