Album: Cinematheque Tangier project by Yto Barrada
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, United States 21 Nov 2013 - 18 May 2014
As a “crossroads of civilizations,” Tangier has long captured the imagination of the West, and been romanticized and immortalized in film and literature. Having grown up around those myths, artist Yto Barrada has been interested in the material history and visual culture of her hometown, particularly its rich cinematic past. She has developed an artistic practice that combines documentary strategies with a metaphoric approach to imagery, resulting in a poetic body of work recognized for its emblematic power.
This exhibition—comprising artwork by or commissioned by Barrada as well as selections of films and archival material—takes Tangier as its subject, exploring the fabled place it occupies in popular imagination while tempering it within the fractured history of colonization and the city’s complex reality. In 2006, the artist cofounded the Cinematheque Tangier—an independent, artist-run organization located just outside Tangier’s old city district—in an urban landscape devoid of cultural infrastructure. Housed in the historic 1938 Cinema Rif, the Cinematheque programs a dynamic monthly schedule of film screenings; contains a library, archive, and editing room; offers workshops to adults and children; and has become a gathering place for the city’s diverse community. The Cinematheque becomes an extension of the artist’s own practice, as well as a cultural force as North Africa’s first art house cinema.
Placing Tangier historically and culturally, the exhibition opens with a hand-painted mural of a vintage tourist map illustrating the location of movie theaters that flourished during Tangier’s colonial “international zone” period; and a wallpaper installation listing colonial era street names (e.g. “Boulevard Pasteur”) and their post-1956 independence renamings (“Avenue Mohamed V”). Within this context, Barrada’s own artworks resonate powerfully, including Palm Sign, an old-fashioned movie marquée in the shape of a palm tree, and Hand-Me-Downs, a deeply personal montage of family stories with home movies from the 1960s.
An archive section houses vintage posters and lobby cards of classic Hollywood movies culled from the Cinematheque’s archive that depict the romantic Tangier of film legend, alongside an antique Scopitone jukebox playing tunes by Arab immigrants who were part of the labor force brought to Paris in the 1960s. Ranging from humor to remorse, some playful and flirtatious, the songs tell their stories about homesickness, unemployment, and exile. In the screening room, a program of short films from the 1930s to the present is on view. Drawn from the Cinematheque’s holdings and the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Film Collection, the range of work includes documentary classics; a short film about Paul Bowles; an experimental work made by Jem Cohen and Luc Sante while in residence at the Cinematheque; and Barrada’s The Magician and Beau Geste. In addition, the show contains commissioned movie posters painted by local artists from Morocco and a set of dioramas designed by Barrada that depict cinemas during the heyday of grand movie-palace theaters.
Together, this grouping of works creates a “family” album of sorts that paints a rich portrait of Tangier. An inspiration for Barrada’s art, the Cinematheque is as much as physical repository as it is a critical proposition to investigate the layered history of Morocco and the social and political realities that shape Tangier today.
The exhibition opens on Thursday, November 21, 6–9pm with music by DJ /rupture, whose work in Morocco—including his software project Sufi Plug Ins in Casablanca and a collaborative project with Berber musicians—will add a dynamic dimension to the exhibition. The artist returns in spring 2014 as part of the Walker’s Expanding the Frame series to discuss film and present screenings. As part of this exhibition, an exchange of films from the Walker’s Ruben/Bentson Collection is planned to take place in Tangier.
Album: Cinematheque Tangier, a project by Yto Barrada is organized by Film/Video senior curator Sheryl Mousley with Visual Arts adjunct curator Clara Kim. The exhibition is copresented by the Walker’s Film/Video and Visual Arts departments, representing the Walker’s commitment to supporting practices that cross and transgress disciplinary boundaries.