Barrada, Yto


Moroccan-French, b. 1971; lives and works in New York, USA


Born in Paris to Moroccan parents and educated in Tangier as well as at the Sorbonne in Paris and the International Center of Photography in New York, Yto Barrada's work engages the fraught realities of identity and immigration as they define daily life in Tangier, Morocco. Focusing on the everyday imagery of the city poised on the western edge of the Strait of Gibraltar—that sliver-thin body of water separating Africa from Europe—Barrada's photographs and videos are hauntingly still. The lone figure in Girl In Red (Playing Jacks) (1999), for example, looks away or, rather, looks elsewhere. Positioned slightly left of center against an ornate and colorfully tiled yet crumbing mosaic wall in Tangier, we see only her back. Fully absorbed in her game, the young woman seems to lean forward, her upper legs pressing against the lower, extended part of the wall as she concentrates her gaze downward, quietly passing time. Such postures course throughout Barrada's A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (1998–2004), the larger series from which Girl In Red (Playing Jacks) derives. She has described the project as an attempt "to expose the metonymic character of the strait through a series of images that reveal the tension—which restlessly animates the streets of my home town—between its allegorical nature and immediate, harsh reality." Since Spain and Portugal's adoption of the European Union's Schengen Agreement in 1991, passage across the Strait from Morocco has been severely restricted and Tangier, choked with many aspiring to Europe, "has become," according to Barrada, "the destination and jumping off point of a thousand hopes."

Vision is equally deferred in Barrada's images of Sleepers, most of whom are shown prone in public parks, heads shrouded in an article of clothing, itself little more than a symbolic gesture protecting their sleep from the rumble of the outside world. Far from a leisurely nap on the green, these figures appear exhausted, spent, burned out. Barrada writes of Tangier's "burners" who have destroyed their papers and broken with the law, with the conventions of citizenship, to seek a different life on the other side of the Strait, and these figures they may well be. They rest, covered, yet in plain sight, their presence suggestive of a purposeful absence. In sleep, too, they manage to look elsewhere.

– Edward A. Vazquez

Artworks by Barrada, Yto

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