Thursday, March 29, 2012

Yto Barrada Exhibition in Chicago : Photos of the Moroccan Riff

Here is an article from the Chicago Tribune about a photo exhibition by Moroccan artist Yto Barrada at the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago. Her photos focus on post-colonial Tangier. The Renaissance Society has a few other Morocco related events connected with the exhibit such as lectures about Tangier and a discussion on the Arab Spring. If you're in Chi-town, you should consider a visit.

Several sides to Barrada photos:

Renaissance Society exhibit offers a look into Moroccan family

March 28, 2012|By Lori Waxman, Speical to the Tribune

Two peculiar photographs face one another across the gallery in "Riffs," Yto Barrada's quietly mesmerizing solo exhibition at the Renaissance Society. In one, round, rectangular red stains fade against the whorls of wood grain. In the other, familiar clusters of faint gray hexagons mark a dirty white surface.

The images are odd in and of themselves, but they are odder still given the dozens of photographs that surround them, pictures of solidly present people and places. An enormous strangler fig tree, the ruins of a famous villa, a tawny child riveted by a perched dragonfly, a picture-perfect view of the Rif Mountains, a building engulfed in the graphic lines of blue scaffolding, all of them fragmentary but undeniable glimpses of life in globalized Tangier, in post-colonial Morocco.

Barrada, who won the Deutsche Bank Artist of the Year Award in 2011, makes her Midwest museum debut with "Riffs," a selection of work from 1996 to 2011, including photographs, films and a text installation. She was born in 1971 to Moroccan parents in Paris, grew up in Tangier, returned to Paris to study political science as a teenager, spent time working and studying in Palestine, Beirut and New York, then went back to Tangier, where she co-founded and directs an art house cinema.

Hers is a family history intertwined with the shady politics of a country at war for its independence, from other nations and from itself. A grandfather was abducted and never seen again, her father arrested for statements made against the monarchy. Family myths abound and are lovingly but skeptically narrated in "Hand-Me Downs." A deeply charming short film, it sets Barrada lore against footage from foundhome movies. There's one about a mother who suckled a goat and hid a political fugitive, a neighbor who had sex with a donkey, and justice served based on the number of suits owned. Two sisters chose their beds in a hotel room according to where they believed "the murderer" would enter from, and thus who would be killed first — the sister in the bed near the window, or the one near the door. Kids can be paranoid and cutthroat like that, but not every family knows political intrigue firsthand.

A pair of black-and-white portraits mark the entrance to the screening room, depicting an elderly man at a cafe table. He's an elegant dazzle of geometry in a houndstooth jacket and striped shirt, against a mosaic tile wall. He takes an old French newspaper clipping out of his wallet, an item about the first passenger at Tangier's airport. That man must have been him. Perhaps that's why he thinks Barrada wants to take his photograph, so many years later. But it isn't. He had been pointed out to her as the man who kidnapped her grandfather half a century ago.

Things are not always as they seem, and what you see does not — cannot — always show what's there.

For instance, the streets of Tangier, like the streets of all cities in Morocco since the country gained its independence in 1956, post Arabic names. But no one actually uses them. The Rue Moliere lives on, even if it is now officially known as El Mohtamid Ibn Abbad. Barrada wallpapered the gallery lobby with an alphabetical index of Rues and Impasses dating from Morocco's time as a French protectorate, alongside their post-independence designations. The pairs appear to be translations of equivalence, but perhaps they are closer to poetic slips of bureaucracy.

Sometimes it's a question of not looking carefully enough. A photograph of parched, bulbous flowers is called "The Snail." And there it is. Another frames a sunlit view of a dark grove. "Spider web in the Perdicaris Forest," notes the title, and there clings the web, and the name of a rich Greek-American man kidnapped in 1904 by a tribal chief, who successfully ransomed his captive for the post of governor of Morocco.

You can see some of that in a photograph, especially when it is printed as large as these two nature studies are, but not much. And yet, that's no reason to not take an image, or to stop believing in the power of images. On the contrary, it might be exactly the kind of understanding needed to create the kind of suggestive, layered, believable pictures that Yto Barrada makes today.

And what of those faded red stains and geometric prints? Barrada generously offers titles. "Family Tree" indicates a wall long covered with portraits, but where have they gone and who were they? "Marks Left by a Football" is just that, though who did what with the ball remains unknowable.

Traces like these are found everywhere, but rarely are they so visible. The lesson of Barrada's many photographs, be they of unfinished suburban homes or an abandoned cinema, a rotting dolphin or an airport lounge, seems to be to look carefully, then keep looking. And also, always, to do more than just look.

But then, here is an artist who used the home movies of strangers to depict her own family. And why not? We don't actually know what they look like.

"Yto Barrada: Riffs" runs through April 29 at the Renaissance Society, University of Chicago, 5811 S. Ellis Ave., 773-702-8670,

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Moroccan Strawberry Festival

Here is an article from al-Arabiya on an international festival of strawberry farmers that just took place in Moulay Bousselham, Morocco .

Strawberry festival in Morocco informs producers of better methods

The second International Strawberry Festival came to close on Sunday in the Moroccan sea resort of Moulay Bousselham after having attracted participants from across the globe, including Peru, the birthplace of strawberries.

“Through this fair, we seek to improve both the quality and the production of strawberries and also to make small farmers aware of the necessity to organise themselves in the shape of co-operatives or associations so they could benefit from exporting their product and the high earnings of exportations,” said Chaoui Belassal, chairman of Moulay Bousselham community council.

The festival spotlighted the fruit from Morocco’s Gharb (West) region and acquainted farmers with advanced irrigation methods and the hazards of misusing pesticides and insecticides.

Academics such as Professor Abderrahman Tenkoul of Ibn Tofail University said their involvement was crucial to the festival as scientific research could uncover ways to improve quality standards while safeguarding consumer health.

The Nalsya Foundation for Development, Environment, and Social Action, a local non-governmental organization, collaborated with Moulay Bousselham communal council in coming up with newer, more efficient irrigation techniques, which could potentially save up to 35 percent of water usage.

Over 3,300 hectares have been devoted to strawberry farming in Morocco, mostly in the Northwestern area of the country.

A large proportion of harvest is exported, and the strawberry industry boasts 25,000 workers, predominantly women from rural areas.

The strawberry industry has observed an increase in production, but a formal union has yet to be established to offer support. Farmers such as Allal Lekhal await governmental response.

“We export around 30 percent of our production and the state should help us. This year, the frost damaged strawberries as well as avocados, bananas, oranges and all the other fruits and vegetables. This is why we need help. So far, we have not got any,” Lekhal said.

Moroccan strawberry farmers remain optimistic however, as they take advantage of their country’s favorable climate and soil conditions, over rivaling European neighbor, Spain, where winter is more detrimental to crops.

This North African country produces 140,000 annually, and exports around 30,000, mainly to the European Union.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Amina Filali

This story is so heartbreaking that it seems wrong not to speak of it. The article from The Telegraph discusses the suicide of Amina Filali, may God be Merciful to her, after suffering the degrading abuse of having to marry the man who raped her.
May her death not be exploited by any side, but used to prevent the coercion and brutalization of women's bodies and souls in the name of tradition or religion. Ameen
(Photo: Hamida, Right, and Souad, the sister and mother of Amina Al Filali sit at her grave in Larache - AFP/Getty Images)

Moroccan teenager's suicide after she was forced to marry her rapist
A Moroccan teenager committed suicide after her family forced her to marry her rapist in a tragedy that has sparked outrage among Moroccan activists and demands for changes to the nation's laws.

By Paul Carsten, and agencies

2:50PM GMT 15 Mar 2012

Amina Filali, 16, drank rat poison last week in order to kill herself because she had been made to marry the man who raped her when she was 15 years old.

Activists have set up a Facebook group called "We are all Amina Filali", with almost 1,000 members. A petition was started which already contains more than 1,000 signatures, and hundreds of tweets detail people's horror at the tragedy.

Nabil Belkabir, an activist, implored people on Twitter to "Join the group 'We are all Amina Filali' if you don't want this drama to happen again."

According to the president of Morocco's Democratic League for Women's Rights, Fouzia Assouli, Miss Filali's rapist married her to avoid receiving a sentence for rape.

In Morocco this is punishable by five to ten years in prison, but the sentence rises to between ten and twenty years if the victim is a minor.

Article 475 of the Moroccan penal code, which purports to defend family values, states that if a rapist marries his victim he is then exonerated of his crime. Ms Assouli attacked the article, saying it "does not uphold the rights of women".

In many societies, including within the Middle East, a woman losing her virginity before marriage is considered a dishonour to her family. For this reason, families will often make arrangements for rape victims to marry their rapists, so as to restore their lost honour. The Book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament contains a similar injunction.

"Amina, 16, was triply violated, by her rapist, by tradition and by Article 475 of the Moroccan law," activist Abadila Maaelaynine wrote on Twitter.

Miss Filali's father, Lahcen Filali, told an online Moroccan newspaper that his daughter only told her parents of the rape two months after it had occurred. When they reported it, the prosecutor advised his daughter to marry.

Although the rapist had initially rejected the proposal to marry Miss Filali, he agreed once threatened with prosecution.

The manager of the Adala Association for legal reform, Abdelaziz Nouaydi, said that a judge can only encourage the victim and rapist to marry when there is agreement from the victim and both families.

Mr Nouaydi said that although it isn't a common occurrence, the victim's family will sometimes assent to the marriage due to worries she will be unable to find a husband if her rape becomes common knowledge.

Ms Assouli said that the victim is then forced to marry in order to avoid scandal for her family.

Despite Morocco changing its family code in 2004 in an attempt to improve women's rights, the practice continues. "It is unfortunately a recurring phenomenon," she said. "We have been asking for years for the cancellation of Article 475 of the penal code which allows the rapist to escape justice."

Legislation to outlaw all forms of violence against women, which includes rape within marriage, has failed to move beyond government debate since first being proposed in 2006.

Mr Filali said his daughter had complained to her mother that her husband beat her repeatedly throughout the five months they were married. Her mother advised her to be patient.

According to a government study conducted last year, almost one quarter of Moroccan women have been sexually assaulted at least once in their lives.