– Autumn/Winter 2007

Sleepers, Magicians, Smugglers: Yto Barrada and the Other Archive of the Strait

Rasha Salti

There are places in the world, small in size and humble, whose cadastral coordinates seem to determine their destiny. Amongst these are port cities, located on the generously rotund curve of a bay or the stubbornly snooping advance of an estuary - places easy for boats to anchor and yet where people seem to shipwreck; places where people seem condemned to melancholy and hopelessness.

Some have been refurbished as exuberant stations in the global commerce of goods, and have become a transparent nexus in the global exchange of injustice, a point of contact between corporations, states, cultures and histories, the site of struggle for power and control unravelling to the naked eye. So narrow and humble are these port cities, so immediate the contact, that there is no space for the decorum of rhetoric, for the symbolic and the allegorical that usually conspire to blur contradictions and soften the ruthlessness of the spectacle of power struggle. Tangier is such a place. It is a privileged location for globalisation's 'miraculous' economic growth, the sleazy passageway for illicit traffic, the success story of the new Moroccan monarch and the city government's boastful investment. Tangier is like a diminutive mirror of the inequalities of the globalised economy. It draws in tourists and international capital with a new appearance that plays on the nostalgia for its old days as a multicultural cosmopolitan city, and at the same time heavily controls the flow of illegal African immigrants to Europe. If the off-the-record, off-the-books money launderers from all around the world find a home in Tangier, the off-the-record African workers fleeing to escape their countries' ravaged economies do not. And if the creative mal-être

  1. Conversation with the artist, 22 June 2007.