Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Maghreb Connection


Townhouse Gallery, Cairo, December 2006
Centre D'art Contemporain, Geneva, February 2007

THE MAGHREB CONNECTION focuses on systems and modalities of migratory movements which constitute the Maghreb and Mediterranean area. From a range of aesthetic positions, the project seeks to develop discursive and visual representations of the growing complexity of North African mobility in relation with the development of the European Union.

In parallel to the agreements about “free movement” inside the European Union, its external borders are increasingly being sealed. In this new scheme, the Maghrebi migrants and those sub-Saharans who use the Maghreb as transit zone are perceived as a threat. While this notion of an invasion - largely spread by the European media - seems to legitimate the restrictive political measures concerning immigration, the European economy reaches further down into the Maghreb to establish giant transnational logistic centers or to find cheap labour for outsourced production. At this point, the relations between Europe and Africa have entered a new post-colonial phase.

In the Maghreb, migration flows rely on - and intersect with - other forms of organized mobility such as existing nomadic movements, tourism, roaming martial formations including rebel groups, and migration-related humanitarian personnel. The junction of these movements generates synergies, conflicts, and sometimes surprising alliances. THE MAGHREB CONNECTION aims to develop a visual representation of the connective space that emerges in the process. This geographic approach (geography being understood as a signifying system that allows us to understand the relation between subject, movement and space) focuses on specific zones of transit migration, such as Agadez in Niger, Lampedusa off the Tunisian shore, Oujda and Tangier in Morocco, Laayoune in the Western Sahara, Sicily and Cairo as destinations for migrants coming through the Suez canal. After in-depth research and investigation, the artists present a series of works under various forms, such as cartography, video, photography, text or animation.

THE MAGHREB CONNECTION is a collaborative art and visual research project on the North African migratory space. A special focus is placed on Sub-Saharan transit migration-now the dominant and undoubtedly the most highly mediatized form of movement in the region-which has turned the Maghreb into a transit zone. In response to the human conditions under which trans-Saharan migration takes place and the dramatizing media images and calls for border reinforcements that it has brought forth, THE MAGHREB CONNECTION sets out to intervene in the current discursive and visual representations with a contribution of new videos, photo series and research essays. In the course of eighteen months, eight art projects were developed in dialogue with each other. They brought us out into the field and made us engage in collaborations with scholars, researchers, NGO activists on location and with many migrants who were on their perilous way through North Africa.

With art projects by DOA ALY (Cairo), YTO BARRADA (Tangier), RAPHAËL CUOMO/MARIA IORIO (Geneva), HALA ELKOUSSY (Cairo), CHARLES HELLER (Geneva), URSULA BIEMANN, (Zurich), HELENA MALENO (Tangier) in collaboration with media/design activists OBSERVATORIO TECNOLOGICO DEL ESTRECHO (Malaga), ARMIN LINKE (Milan) and CAMILLE PONCET/MOUHAMED COULIBALY-MASSASSI (esba Geneva).

The Townhouse Gallery, Cairo
December 11, 2006 - January 13, 2007
Exhibition opening: December 10, 7pm
Conference: December 11, 11am - 7pm

With ALI BENSAÂD, geographer, Research Institute of the Arab and Muslim World (Marseille)

MICHEL AGIER, urban anthropologist, Centre for African Studies, EHESS (Paris)

MEHDI ALIOUA, sociologist (Rabat/Toulouse)

HELENA MALENO (Tangier) and NICO SCUGLIA (Malaga) from Observatorio Tecnologico

and presentations of the research projects by the artists and activists moderated by

BRIAN HOLMES, art critic and essayist (Paris)

THE MAGHREB CONNECTION is a research project initiated and directed by Ursula Biemann. The development and production of the exhibition project and the publication has been funded by PRO HELVETIA Swiss Arts Council, Cairo. The conference and the publication has been generously supported by Heinrich Boell Foundation Middle East Office. The research is based at the Ecole Supérieure de Beaux Arts, Geneva and the Institute for Art and Design Theory, HGKZ Zurich. The exhibition will travel to the CAC Geneva who contributed also to the publication.


The multiple video installation is an exploration of the post-colonial entanglement underlying the present sub-Saharan exodus towards Europe. It examines the politics of mobility and containment which lies at the heart of the current global geopolitics with regard to human circulation, a tendency which comes into sharp profile in this specific geography. Dedicated to experimentation, the Agadez Chronicle is fractured into 4 videos, representing a gesture towards spatializing the signifying process and creating a simultaneous reading of different temporalities.

AGADEZ CHRONICLE is part for THE MAGHREB CONNECTION Art and Research project.


Agadez, at the heart of Niger, is the Southern gate to the Saharan basin for the main routes coming from West Africa, it is a major trans-Saharan trading centre, and capital of the Tuareg. Forgotten places now emerge as crucial nodes and relays in the international migration network in North Africa. After Agadez no one goes alone. The scene of the Agadez Chronicle is set in the courtyard of the Sahara Ténéré Transportation Company in Agadez, where trucks are prepared for the desert passage, tickets sold, last prayers made. The quiet daily routine of handling life-changing journeys.

Agadez Chronicle is an exploration of this post-colonial entanglement underlying the present sub-Saharan exodus towards Europe. It examines the politics of mobility and containment which lies at the heart of the current tendencies in global geopolitics with regard to human circulation, a tendency which comes into sharp profile in this specific geography. At the moment when Europe is redefining and consolidating itself, the post-colonial legacy is reemerging full force; unresolved business is coming to light.

The space of mobility and livelihood of the Tuareg covers substantial areas of 5 nations - Algeria, Libya, Mali, Niger and Chad. They maintain nevertheless their identification as a people across the boundaries. They are by definition transnational. Tuareg culture has developed a system of information, specific topographic literacy, mobility and communication. Their unique expertise is in high demand since a steady flow of sub-Saharan migrants transit Agadez before crossing the desert to reach the Maghreb. The video documents the various players in the Agadez migrant-transportation racket.

Social injustice and the exclusion from the wealth generated by the uranium found on their territory had pushed them to armed action. Arlit represents a particularly interesting economic and political constellation which manifests, in the video, through the dignified figure of Adawa, former rebl leader and today head of the clandestine transportation operations of the Algerian line.

Equipped with high-tech observation machines, desert drones are gliding over the expansive topography, searching for undocumented migrants. The territory has turned into a carpet of satellite and radio signals, audio and visual, encoded and jammed, where migratory and digital geographies overlap. On the big scale of international contracts between governments, migrants have become a subject of negotiation. In fact, they are traded against these very image technologies which reveals to what degree image making is an integral part of the politics of movement.

Even though the desert plays a central part in the Agadez Chronicle, there is no single panoramic view of the Sahara, no vision of the natural monster. The landscape appears only in the narrative, as the social construct of a transportation network and as a medium to examine the aesthetic grammar of movement and the construction of video space. Dedicated to experimentation, the Agadez Chronicle is a gesture towards spatializing the signifying process and creating a simultaneous reading of different temporalities by orchestrating several videos that operate on different discursive planes.

Ursula Biemann is an artist, theorist and curator who has in recent years produced a considerable body of work on migration, mobility, technology and gender. In a series of internationally exhibited video projects, as well as in several books ("Been There and Back to Nowhere"(2000), "Geography and the Politics of Mobility"(2003), "Stuff It - The Video Essay in the Digital Age“ (2003) she has focused on the gendered dimension of migrant labour from smuggling on the Spanish-Moroccan border to migrant sex workers moving from the East to the West. Insisting that location is spatially produced rather than pre-determined by governance, she made space and mobility her prime category of analysis in the curatorial project "Geography and the Politics of Mobility" (2003) in Vienna, the recent art research projects “The Black Sea Files” on the Caspian oil politics at Kunstwerke Berlin (2005), or the Maghreb Project on Mediterranean mobility, Cairo/Geneva (2006). Biemann's practice has long included discussions with academics and other practitioners, she has worked with anthropologists, cultural theorists, NGO members, architects, as well as scholars of aural and sonic culture. She researches at the Institute for Theory of Art and Design at HGK Zurich lectures at the CCC program of esba Geneva, and teaches seminars and workshops internationally.