“In my performance and installation piece, I explore relationships between spatial proximity, affect and trauma. The segmented architecture of Agadir embodies a visual repertoire for all dreamers of a New Town or even of a New World.” This is how artist Yto Barrada describes her new commission Agadir that is currently on view at The Curve in the Barbican Centre.
Barrada is known for her eclectic and experimental practise exploring themes ranging from migration to abstraction, from fossils to botany. In her multimedia installations she often examines strategies of resistance in everyday life, overlapping personal narratives with political ideals.
Barrada’s theatrical room-filling installation at the Barbican focuses on the aftermath of an earthquake in the Moroccan city of Agadir in 1960, destroying much of the urban fabric and killing up to 15,000 people, leaving a further 35,000 homeless.
Agadir’s progressive expansion after independence in 1956 and its immediate reconstruction was an expression of emancipation from colonial rule. The city was designed by a number of architects and urbanists who used bare concrete and restricted forms that were strongly influenced by architects such as Le Corbusier. The architectural drawings on the wall strongly resonate with the Brutalist Barbican Centre, conceived around the same time as Agadir’s reconstruction.
A huge monochrome black and white mural Untitled (Agadir), 2018 spans along the entire curved outer wall of the gallery. Here, Yto Barrada made large scratch drawings of the modernist utopian architecture of Agadir, starting with buildings that were standing before the earthquake – we can for example see a drawing of the Cinema Agadir – continuing with some of the iconic buildings that were constructed after the disaster, such as the Central Post Office.
Traditional woven wicker chairs that are used in sea-side resorts in Morocco intersect the dark exhibition space. Disembodied voices and murmurs ghostly emanate from loudspeakers hidden inside the rattan seats. When sitting down we can hear the invisible protagonists describing for example how they coped with loss and destruction after the earthquake in Agadir.
The script of the sound-installation is based on the surreal novel-play Agadir (1967) which was written by Moroccan writer Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine (1941 – 1995) as part of a government mission instigated by King Mohammed V to assess the devastation and reformation of the city after the earthquake. Protagonists of the play are a king, a psychic, a cook, a trade unionist, a goat and a female warrior and others. Throughout the show, on selected Saturdays, actors will populate the exhibition space and life-perform Mohammed Khaïr-Eddine’s play that was translated into English for the first time on the occasion of the exhibition.
On the right wall of the gallery we can see a series of collages in which Barrada juxtaposed international press-clippings from the days and weeks after the earthquake with found gouache wall-paper designs. One collage for example shows images of shattered windows amid the rubble that was once the newly built luxury Hotel Saada.
The looped film Anagramme Agadir (2018) forms the epilogue of the show. Barrada created a hypnotic montage of images and sounds using sequences of archival black and white news footage and interviews with survivors recorded in the days following the earthquake. Two sisters are giving account of what they did whilst being trapped beneath a building for more than a week, discussing films and sleeping. A scene of what seems to be the interior of a destroyed lamp-shop is reflected in a large wicker mobile called Dance Macabre – My-City-Knife-of-the-Sun (2018) that is hanging from the ceiling in front of the exit. It consists of woven lamp-shades casting a ghostly shadow-play on the walls.
Yto Barrada’s exhibition Agadir is part of the Barbican’s 2018 season The Art of Change, which explores how the arts respond to, reflect and potentially effect change in the social and political landscape. By overlapping different narratives Barrada powerfully portrays a complex picture of a city and its inhabitants in a state of transformation after a disaster, reflecting important contemporary debates around the rebuilding of societies. Her immersive multi-media installation also intelligently echoes the Barbican’s own history as a site of post-war destruction rebuilt with utopian and modernist ideals.
The Curve, Barbican Centre, Silk St, London EC2Y 8DS. Saturday – Wednesday 11.00-20.00, Thursday and Friday 11.00-21.00. Exhibition continues until 20 May 2018. www.barbican.org.uk