Yto Barrada

By Bourland, Ian | Artforum International, March 2014 | Go to article overview

Yto Barrada


Bourland, Ian, Artforum International


WALKER ART CENTER

Over the past decade, the work of the French-born, Morocco-based artist Yto Barrada has gradually revealed itself as recursive, with new projects incorporating the documentary images of the Maghreb and the Mediterranean that brought the artist international attention. At once chromatic and undersaturated, those ambiguously allusive pictures stand on their own, but Barrada has taken to redeploying them--along with her sculptural works, films, and videos--in broader thematic installations. Her most recent project, "Album: Cinematheque Tangier" (on view through May 18), is perhaps the culmination of this turn in her evolving practice, comprising not only new and old work as well as archival materials but a satellite of Cinema Rif, the Tangier movie house that Barrada was instrumental in founding.

Pale-yellow, blue, and deep-orange walls provide a backdrop for works that call to mind a bygone era of grand downtown marquees: handpainted reproductions of vintage film posters; Barrada's sculpture Palm Sign, 2010, lit by exposed incandescent bulbs; maquettes of golden-age movie palaces. Other elements, however, feel out of place: a suite of unframed works on paper referring to Hubert Lyautey, the first colonial administrator of French Morocco (A Modest Proposal, 2010); an entry wall that lists Tangier street names in French and Arabic. But there are anchor points. Vitrines full of midcentury programs in Arabic and English attest to a vibrant if little-known Moroccan film industry, juxtaposed with posters for American adventure staples of the 1950s, portraying proto-Indiana Joneses on exotic Oriental excursions. Nearby, a 2008 film by Barrada explains that the Maghreb once had a thriving culture centered on cinema, but by 2000, no art houses remained. In 2006, she and a team constructed a new theater and cafe at the Rif, which has since hosted more than ten thousand visitors and serves as a film archive with a growing public education program.

In this light, "Cinematheque Tangier" assumes a formal clarity, as a cultural repository that works on the raw logistical level of conservation and circulation (like a library) and also on a larger sociopolitical project that is "the Orient" in general and Tangier in particular. …

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