Yto Barrada’s Riffs at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels‏


Yto Barrada
Deutsche Bank’s Artist of the Year 2011

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels
24 September 2011–31 December 2011

23 September 2011

Riffs is the first survey exhibition of the work of Yto Barrada, whose photographs, films, publications, installations and sculptures engage with the peculiar situation of her hometown of Tangier, Morocco, situated on the Strait of Gibraltar, transformed into a dead end since the Schengen agreement. Yto Barrada is an artist who gives attention to history’s forgotten versions, the other side of the picture, and the blind spots in the development of her country, Morocco: the fringes of tourist stereotypes and western affluence.

The title of this exhibition, borrowed from the vocabulary of music (a riff is a chord that accompanies and structures a melody as in a dialogue), corresponds above all to the manner chosen to present the work. The exhibition favours the juxtaposition and the associations between the themes tackled: the Strait and the wish to be elsewhere, the life of plants and guerrilla gardening, the expansions of contemporary cities, but also the reconstructions of history in family novels, collective access to memory… The exhibition blends new images and other older ones, some of them hitherto unpublished, and favours the associations and connections between all the moments of her approach. Various narratives—the life of plants and guerrilla gardening, the emancipation projects and their paradoxes, the reconstructions of history in family novels, the collective access to memory—intersect and answer each other. Yto Barrada tackles them without bombast, without giving in to prophetic or illustrative temptation.

The show, featuring selected works from her series, such as The Strait Project and Iris Tingitana, as well as new photos and films, is conceived as a deliberate juxtaposition of them. It plays on the varying distances between Barrada’s lens as a photographer and her subjects, and displays the full range media in which she works. The show’s title is not only inspired by music, but relates also to the rugged Rif mountains of Morocco, home to insurgencies and a splinter Republic, and to the art deco Rif Cinema, which houses the Tangier Cinémathèque. The three films, Beau Geste, Playground and Hand-Me-Downs, are also “riffing”—rearticulating spaces, sounds, and meanings. One of the recurring figures of the show is that of the tree—physical trees and family trees. Trees serve as metaphors of resistance and strength, of developing levels of vision, of generational transmission, of changing times, of shelter, regeneration and nutrition, but also of decor and tourism.

Yto Barrada grew up between Tangier and Paris, where she studied history and political science at the Sorbonne, and subsequently attended the International Center of Photography in New York. Her practice, combining the strategies of documentary with a more meditative approach to images, drove her to return home after sixteen years abroad. Now based in Tangier, she continues to engage the complex realities around her, avoiding the rigidity of any ideological discourse, and without recourse to the spectacular or melodramatic. Another of Barrada’s responses to the dynamics of the region was to co-found the Cinémathèque de Tanger, North Africa’s first cinema cultural centre, which she now directs. The Cinémathèque’s film programs, workshops, archive, and travelling presentations are another investment in the unique status of images and representations in the contemporary Arab world and beyond.

Yto Barrada is Deutsche Bank’s ‘Artist of the Year 2011,’ an award not based on a financial reward, but positioned as an integral part of Deutsche Bank’s commitment to contemporary art, a program which includes a solo exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin which travels to WIELS and other museums, a publication and acquisitions for the Deutsche Bank Collection.

At WIELS, the complementary program for the exhibition includes:
Lecture by
Marie Muracciole
Missing Histories
Following a journey starting with Maure (2007) and Genealogic Tree (2005)—two photographs by Yto Barrada—art critic and curator Marie Muracciole, who co-curated Riffs, will discuss the relationships between reality, story and enigma in images of art, and how history in the making looks at these images.

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre
Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354
1190 Brussels, Belgium
T +32 (0)2 340 00 50

Nocturne, every 1st & 3rd Wed of the month