Before Our Eyes Other Cartographies of the Rif
Sous nos yeux (Before Our Eyes) is a curatorial project comprised of several exhibitions, artist residencies, expeditions, encounters and productions.
After the first two parts were exhibited at La Kunsthalle (Mulhouse, France), the third part, presented here at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) as Before Our Eyes. Other Cartographies of the Rif, features artworks newly produced or commissioned by La Kunsthalle or MACBA, in collaboration with L’appartement 22 (Rabat, Morocco). Throughout the evolution of Sous nos yeux, artists from different parts of the world have joined and established a dialogue where the very specific context of the Rif Mountains has become their work’s point of departure, thus contributing new layers to the region’s many complex meanings and dimensions. Before Our Eyes. Other Cartographies of the Rif fills the MACBA exhibition space with onsite productions and documents of expeditions organised by L’appartement 22 in Morocco’s Rif Mountains since 2007.
Sous nos yeux explores the artistic vocabularies of a group of artists identified by curator Abdellah Karroum as the ‘Generation 00’. Used first to refer to artists in Morocco who share a common approach at the turn of the twenty-first century, Karroum’s idea of ‘00’ refers to the concept of a rupture with linear art history. It promotes the dialogue of ‘Art and History’, placing each artistic production within its immediate context and conceiving of each artist as a citizen who questions fundamental ideas such as movement, resistance and freedom in the world. Developed with regard to a specific cultural and social context, the concept of the Generation 00 rapidly became a prism for interpreting projects on different continents, indicating how the issues raised by Karroum’s Generation 00 extend well beyond art spaces and are active beyond territories.
Curated by Abdellah Karroum and Soledad Gutiérrez*
Group exhibition at MACBA Barcelona.
Works by Mustapha Akrim, Yto Barrada, Gabriella Ciancimino, Shezad Dawood, Ninar Esber, Patricia Esquivias, Brion Gysin, Badr El Hammami, Camille Henrot, Mohamed Larbi Rahali, Grace Ndiritu, Younès Rahmoun, Francesc Ruiz, Oriol Vilanova, anonymous production and objects of collective authorship.
For Before Our Eyes. Other Cartographies of the Rif, each participating artist was invited to produce works that aim to challenge viewers’ perceptions of their relationship to history, its meanings and the narratives that construct it in relation to a very specific context. At stake is not only the meaning of the artistic object, but also its relationship to archival practices and its integration within the museum institution. In addition to these works, Before Our Eyes. Other Cartographies of the Rif presents some anonymous and collectively made objects used in the Rif’s geographical and cultural context during the twentieth century and today. These objects, which have aesthetic qualities but which museums typically consider as craft objects rather than as artworks, further provoke reflections on the artistic – and art historical – object, raising questions such as: What defines the artistic object or the object of art historical study? What are the mechanisms and methodologies that make it culturally visible, and to whom? This debate about the role of art and artists continues, with the Generation 00 playing a special role in bringing these issues to the fore since the late 1990s, especially in Morocco.
Here, then, are some points of departure: orality, rituals, the origins of traditions and how they are rewritten in order to open onto new readings of history; the comic as a medium that allows for circulating alternative histories that depart from the official one; the many different processes by which an art object is legitimised; the archive as a way of selectively storing historical events; the ways in which Morocco has captivated Europeans and Americans, for better or, all too often, for worse; migration flows between Africa and Europe; the places where migration flows and debates intersect with education and the changing role of women in society.
Before Our Eyes. Other Cartographies of the Rif is also an exploration of the exhibition’s form, one that aims to link the production of each artwork to a broader artistic project that responds to how the artist is positioned in the world today. The everyday and the immediate interact with the longue durée of history and the faraway, suggesting a present perpetually interrupted by a past whose terms and narratives remain under constant revision. The exhibited artwork, too, is displaced from its site of production and moved to the place of its exhibition, whether as a documentary image or as repetition of this gesture of displacement. Such back-and-forth movements find form in the fragmented exhibition space itself, which is constructed like successive pages of a book. This original, non-linear layout links the idea of an open book to an architectural labyrinth, creating a kind of three-dimensional ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ that invites the viewer to navigate the many possible entries to the artworks themselves and to the histories that they unearth, stories that were perhaps always before our eyes but visible only now.
*Abdellah Karroum is a curator, researcher and, since 2013, the director of Mathaf: Museum for Modern Arab Art, in Doha.
Soledad Gutiérrez is curator of temporary exhibitions at the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA).