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Q&A: Tackling taboos in Morocco's art scene - Al Jazeera English
"Morocco's location on the Mediterranean Sea has made it a departure point for undocumented migrants in Africa hoping to cross to Europe.

These dangerous journeys have resulted in many migrants drowning and the Mediterranean earning the morbid nickname of "the sea cemetery", with a recent incident claiming 800 victims. Some who do not cross opt to settle instead in Morocco, where they have reportedly experienced abuse from the local population.

Moroccan-French photographer and video artist Leila Alaoui has attempted to tackle such issues through her art. At the Traces of the Future exhibit at the Marrakech Museum of Photography and Visual Arts, which runs until September, Alaoui's video installation Crossings showcases testimonies of sub-Saharan migrants against the backdrop of the Mediterranean. 

Al Jazeera spoke with Alaoui about Crossings, as well as her focus on migration throughout her larger body of work.



Al Jazeera: The testimonies of sub-Saharan migrants in Crossings could be perceived as a controversial topic within Morocco, because migrants are often targets of repression. Why did you decide to focus on sub-Saharan migrants? How did you research this project?

Alaoui: As a Moroccan, I felt very ashamed and felt some kind of responsibility to fight against the violent treatment of sub-Saharan migrants, who because of their "clandestine" status are deprived of basic human rights.

When I decided to work on this subject, I spent many months as a participant observer among migrant communities in very under-privileged neighbourhoods in Rabat and Tangier. I became involved with activists, journalists and humanitarian organisations working on the migration crisis in Morocco.

This experience nurtured the idea of an immersive audiovisual experience through which to share personal stories of migration and re-enact the disturbing sensations of the journey. I truly wanted to do a project that humanised and dignified the migrants.



"Al Jazeera: You've previously spoken up about art and self-censorship in Morocco. Could you elaborate on the prevalence of self-censorship? Do you think this artistic self-censorship is more ubiquitous in Morocco than in other parts of the Arab world?

Alaoui: We see Moroccan artists still suffering from censorship in the latest debate on Nabil Ayouch's film on prostitution, Much Loved.

However, when looking at contemporary artists in the Middle East and North Africa, there is very little engaged art emerging from Morocco.

Most of the artists whose work has a strong political message are usually from the Moroccan diaspora or living abroad, such as Mounir Fatmi or Mohamed El Baz.

I personally think artists should be engaging more on sociopolitical issues. In my opinion, art plays an important role in reflecting and questioning our societies.

Moreover, Moroccan society is going through a major transition. We are lost between modernity and traditions, freedom of expression and fear of the authority. We still don't know where to position ourselves and aren't ready to face our real selves.

We prefer to stay quiet, in denial and make sure the country keeps its positive image to stay in peace.

I believe the lack of engagement of artists is more a result of auto-censorship than censorship itself.

But we also have strong examples of artists living in Morocco whose work is very political, such as Mahi Binebine's work on the dark years of Moroccan political repression. This shows us that there is space for freedom of expression as long as we respect the values of the kingdom.

Al Jazeera: You say that in France, you're considered Moroccan, and in Morocco, you're considered French. How does this affect your work in both countries?

Alaoui: Although I feel at home in Morocco, I always felt like a foreigner in both countries.

I certainly believe that my hyphenated identity and my experience living abroad have deeply influenced my work and interest in cultural diversity, identity and migration.

My current project questions the contemporary reality of immigration in a post-colonial era and focuses on North African communities in France. Through this project, I try to understand the shared history of both countries, but it may also be a personal quest for own identity."



Al Jazeera: What are your future plans?

Alaoui: After living in New York, Marrakech and Beirut, I am now in France.

My current work explores the contemporary reality of post-colonial immigration through a visual art project mixing photography, video installations and archival documents.

Following weeks of research as a participant observer among different generations of North African immigrants and their children, I am building a body of work that reflects on individual memories, collective history and identity reconstruction.

My work uses a visual language that combines the narrative depth of documentary storytelling and the aesthetic sensibilities of visual art.

I will also be presenting my series The Moroccans in a solo show at the prestigious Maison Européennede la Photographie in Paris as part of the Arab Photography biennale in November.
via:javierarbona  morocco  leilaalaoui  2015  art  photography  migration  mediterranean  rabat  tangier  race  racism  repression  portraits  self-censorship  politics  society 
july 2015 by robertogreco

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